© 2023 WFSU Public Media
WFSU News · Tallahassee · Panama City · Thomasville
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Secret Friends: Tapping Into The Power Of Imagination

Getty Images

As a kid, Megan Lincoln had a secret: she heard the voice of Cher in her head.

"It was her voice. It was her recognizable Cher voice," she says. "She was as real to me as my friend next to me. I couldn't see her, I could just hear her. And it was real," she says.

Megan had dyslexia, and "Cher" offered encouragement when she struggled to read in school.

"The one thing I always remembered her saying to me is, 'If you think you are dumb, then you think I am dumb, and I am not dumb.' And then she would tell me to 'go back to reading' or 'go back to trying to write something.'"

Psychologists sometimes refer to such emotional connections as parasocial relationships —one-way relationships. In some ways, they are akin to the imaginary friends that many children have. As we grow up, we're told to set such relationships aside. Clinging to imaginary companions can suggest that you are lonely or maladjusted.

But what if there is more to these relationships than we realize?

This week, we look at the human capacity for imagination, and meet people who have trained themselves to experience the invisible as real.

Additional Resources:

"'Lord, Teach Us to Pray': Prayer Practice Affects Cognitive Processing," by T.M. Luhrmann, Howard Nusbaum and Ronald Thisted in Journal of Cognition and Culture, 2013

When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God, by T.M. Luhrmann, 2012

Persuasions of the Witches' Craft: Ritual Magic in Contemporary England, by T.M. Luhrmann, 1991

Experience of the Inner Worlds, by Gareth Knight, 1975

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Shankar Vedantam is the host and creator of Hidden Brain. The Hidden Brain podcast receives more than three million downloads per week. The Hidden Brain radio show is distributed by NPR and featured on nearly 400 public radio stations around the United States.
Laura Kwerel
Parth Shah is a producer and reporter in the Programming department at NPR. He came to NPR in 2016 as a Kroc Fellow.
Tara Boyle is the supervising producer of NPR's Hidden Brain. In this role, Boyle oversees the production of both the Hidden Brain radio show and podcast, providing editorial guidance and support to host Shankar Vedantam and the shows' producers. Boyle also coordinates Shankar's Hidden Brain segments on Morning Edition and other NPR shows, and oversees collaborations with partners both internal and external to NPR. Previously, Boyle spent a decade at WAMU, the NPR station in Washington, D.C. She has reported for The Boston Globe, and began her career in public radio at WBUR in Boston.
Lushik Wahba