This week I took the Two-Factor Imagination Scale (TFIS) test. It was developed to identify the predominant imagination style used by alexithymic and non-alexithymic individuals. I have a couple of questions at the end of this write-up for those who take both TFIS and the Alexithymia Questionnaire.
Imagination–or the alleged lack of imagination in both autistic and alexithymic individuals–seems to be a hot topic around here lately.
Impoverished imagination is often included in the list of traits for alexithymia. Restricted imagination isn’t explicitly included as a diagnostic item for Asperger’s or autism, but it is part of the common ASD stereotype.
People see autistic kids lining up Hot Wheels or sorting Legos by color and assume there isn’t a whole lot going on in the imagination department. As someone who spent a lot of time in organizational-type play as a kid, I can assure you that I had a vivid imagination.
The thing is, it mostly took place inside my head. All that time I spent wandering around aimlessly in the yard or staring off into space? I was often playing with my imaginary friend Will, pretending to be somewhere else entirely. Will and I spent a lot of time on other planets because he was modeled on Will Robinson from “Lost in Space.”
I didn’t need toys to act out my imaginary scenarios. The possibilities that existed in my mind were more interesting than the pretend food my friends wanted to pretend cook or the pretend store they liked pretend shopping at. Sometimes I joined in, but often it just seemed like a less interesting version of real life. I get bored really easily. Picking some berries and pretending to cook and eat them didn’t hold my attention for long.
Spontaneous vs. Controlled Imagination
The Two-Factor Imagination Scale questions are supposed to gauge whether you have a more spontaneous or more controlled imagination process.
- Spontaneous imagination is defined as effortless, surprising and instantaneous. For example, you’re washing the dishes and suddenly have a great new idea for a drawing. It feels like your idea literally “came out of nowhere.”
- Controlled imagination is defined as a process that is consciously initiated, guided and terminated. For example, you’re washing the dishes and consciously decide to think about how to resolve a conflict with your roommate. You intentionally stay on task, brainstorming ideas and refining until you have an answer, at which time you stop thinking about it.
That’s not to say that spontaneous imagination is always creative while controlled imagination is always practical. You could suddenly have the perfect solution to your roommate crisis appear out of nowhere. You could also intentionally brainstorm and plan a new drawing.
The theory behind the TFIS is that people with high alexithymic traits are controlled imagination-dominant. The speculation about imagination in autistics is similar–that our imaginations are less flexible or less productive when it comes to generating novel ideas.
While the TFIS isn’t a measure of how imaginative an individual is, it may shed some light on how we use our imaginations. Keep in mind that neither type of imagination is superior–they simply represent different thinking styles.
Taking the Test
You can take the test at Aspie Tests. Once you click the “click here to start” link, you’re taken to a page that asks for age, gender, and diagnostic status. You also have to tick the box agreeing to the terms, but you don’t have to fill in the user name info.
TFIS consists of 22 statements, which you rate as “more often true” or “less often true”.
I had a lot of trouble choosing an option for many of the statements because I regularly have both controlled and spontaneous imagination experiences. I found myself answering questions in ways that directly contradicted each other, which got frustrating.
Once you’re satisfied with your answers (or can’t stand to look at the questions any longer) click the “Get Results” button to get your score.
Scoring the Test
There are three possible outcomes:
- equal to or less than 45 = low spontaneous imagination
- 46 to 59 = proportionate spontaneous/controlled imagination
- equal to or greater than 60 = high spontaneous imagination
I scored 56.0 (proportionate spontaneous/controlled imagination), which isn’t surprising given how contradictory my answers felt. I think I use both types of imagination in tandem. Spontaneous ideas provide the start of a creative project or enrich the details. Controlled imagination fills in the gaps.
The Aspie Test site provides some interesting data on the scoring page. If you look only at the averages, it looks like people with ASD or suspected ASD have low spontaneous imagination and NTs have proportionate spontaneous/controlled imagination.
However, if you look at the graph, the data distribution isn’t “normal” which means the average scores don’t represent the majority of the people in each group. Look at where the yellow line peaks: the largest grouping of NT scores is at 40 (low spontaneous imagination) and the second largest is at 60 (high spontaneous imagination) making the average score of “proportionate” completely meaningless because the majority of NTs scored either low or high, not proportionate.
The same holds for the ASD scores. There’s a peak at 45 (proportionate) and a larger peak at 25 (low). The suspected ASD scores are literally all over the map, with no clear peak.
The Bottom Line
I’m struggling to draw any conclusions from this test, so I have questions for those who took it and would like to share:
- How hard was it to choose answers that felt accurate?
- Was your score surprising or what you expected?
- Did you TFIS score “agree” with your alexithymia quiz score? (high alexithymic = low spontaneous imagination)