Our attitudes can be influenced not only by what we actually experience but also by what we imagine, researchers have claimed.
Sometimes in life, there are special places that seem to stand out to us. It can be a school playground, perhaps an old church, or simply a street corner where one may have shared an intimate moment with someone special, even though that may be the first and last time the individuals visited that very corner. It’s as if the special experience with that beloved person transpired into a positive emotion attached to the location.
But could this also happen purely by the power of imagination rather than by actual experiences?
According to the study published in the Journal of Nature Communications, researchers believe the phenomenon is based on activity in a particular location in the front of our brains called the ventromedial prefrontal cortex.
Participants in this study were first asked to name people that they like very much and also people they don’t like at all. When the participants were lying in the MRI scanner, they were asked to vividly imagine how they would spend time with a much-liked person at a neutral place.
“So I might imagine myself with my daughter in the elevator of our institute, where she wildly pushes all the buttons. Eventually, we arrive at the rooftop terrace, where we get out to enjoy the view,” described the first author of the study, Roland Benoit.
After the MRI scanning, researchers were able to determine that the attitudes of the participants towards the places had changed. The previously neutral places that had been imagined with liked people were now regarded as more positive than at the beginning of the study.
Using MRI data, the researchers were able to show how this mechanism works in the brain.
The ventromedial prefrontal cortex plays an important role in this process. This is where information about individual persons and places from our environment is stored.
Indeed, when the participants thought of a person that they liked more strongly, the scientists saw signs of greater activity in that region.
Why are the researchers interested in this phenomenon? They want to better understand the human ability to experience hypothetical events through imagination and how we learn from imagined events much in the same way as from actual experiences.