28/07/2023DRESSING UP COSTUMES FOR GROWN-UPS! NEW RESEARCH SHOWS THE HUMAN IMAGINATION BECOMES MORE ACTIVE WITH AGE
New research commissioned by English Heritage and conducted by the University of Kent has shown that, contrary to popular opinion, the adult imagination is not only as vivid as that of a child but even becomes more active with age.
English Heritage has used these findings to focus our ‘One Extraordinary Summer’ events programme on bringing the imagination to life. We will be introducing hands-on history sessions and historical ‘dress up’ costumes targeted at adults in at 11 of our sites this summer.
The research into the effects of age on the imagination, which was conducted by the University of Kent’s School of Psychology, directly refutes the commonly held belief that we become less imaginative as we get older. Over 470 people aged between 4 and 81 were asked to imagine how unfamiliar historical objects could have been used and the answers were evaluated for their fluency (number of responses), flexibility (how many different categories such as cooking, religion, art the responses crossed), proximity (how close to the actual function of the object the responses were), elaboration (how detailed they were) and originality.
The objects were all Roman and included a portable altar, dress fastener, a weight and a mould in the shape of a warrior god. A decoration was a common response for all the pieces, but other suggestions included a candle holder or brick for the altar, a bottle opener or ring for the dress fastener, a plate or tool for the mould, and a toy or doorknob for the weight.
Age was found to be a significant predictor for proximity, originality and elaboration. It was found that, with increasing age, people were more likely to imagine uses that were closer to the actual function of the objects. However, there was also an increase in originality with age, and older adults were more likely to provide more detailed or colourful ideas. Interestingly, adolescents and young adults scored higher for fluency and flexibility of imagination. They came up with a larger number of suggestions and these ideas spanned a wider range of categories than other age groups, suggesting that different age groups have different strengths when it comes to the imagination.
Dr Angela Nyhout, Assistant Professor at the University of Kent’s School of Psychology, led the team that conducted the research. She explains, “These new findings dispel the commonly held belief that humans lose their imaginations as they age. Instead, it shows that our imaginations continue to grow and change, even throughout adulthood, with the over 60s actually showing the most originality. Adults’ imaginations can be just as vivid as children’s, but what they already know about the world constrains their imagination in some cases and enhances it in others. We just need the freedom of the right environment and opportunity to explore the limits of our imagination, and historical places are a perfect place to do this"
Beth Stone, Head of Visitor Experience at English Heritage, added, “This research has confirmed what we already suspected from watching our visitors interact on site: that imagination simply doesn’t diminish with age. With so many exciting historical figures and periods of history between them, it’s inevitable that English Heritage sites spark flights of fancy! We’ll be encouraging adult participation at our blockbuster events and hands-on history sessions, whilst our new costumes will hopefully help our older visitors leave their inhibitions at the door and let their imaginations take them back in time. Whether they want to be a steely knight, a judicious Roman senator or an opulent Elizabethan lady, we have just the outfit!”
The new adult dressing-up costumes range from Roman togas, Medieval chainmail and WWII uniform, through to smart Victorian suits and exquisite Tudor gowns. Whitby Abbey in Yorkshire will even have vampire capes and accessories, in a nod to its having provided the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The 11 sites offering the costume will be Bolsover Castle in Derbyshire, Boscobel in Shropshire, Corbridge Roman Town in Northumberland, Dover Castle in Kent, Eltham Palace in London, Kenilworth Castle in Warwickshire, Osborne on the Isle of Wight, Pendennis Castle in Cornwall, Witley Court in Worcestershire, Whitby Abbey in Yorkshire and Wrest Park in Bedfordshire.
Until the end of August, English Heritage is offering 25% off our great value annual Memberships. With each adult Member allowed to take up to six accompanying children under the age of 18, a single parent family can now enjoy unlimited days out at more than 400 English Heritage attractions for £51.75 per year, and a two-parent family for just £90 per year. We are also offering a Kids Eat Free deal in our cafés over the summer holidays.
For further information, visit www.english-heritage.org.uk/summer