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Personality & Attitudes on Revenge in the General Population of Scotland Essay

Fantasies vary from person to person and are dependent on psychological condition. In a clinical population fantasies tend to last longer than in non-clinical populations. Although overall each fantasy has been reported to last relatively short periods of time, the frequency of which they occur is usually the factor that determines whether they are of concern or not (Gellerman and Suddath, 2005). There seems to be a limited quantity of research available on the general understanding of this topic however the literature that does exist appears to focus on three particular areas, sustaining fantasies – as a means of coping with painful and stressful situations in the general population but particularly in the clinical population (Zelin, Bernstein, Heijn, Jampel, Myerson, Adler, Buie & Rizzuto, 1983; Harder & Zelin, 1984; Greenwald & Harder, 1994; Greenwald & Harder, 1995 & Greenwald and Harder, 1997); aggressive fantasies – for pleasure or satisfaction in the general population but more often than not habitually involuntary for the clinical population and generally violent, sexual and sadistic in nature (Gellerman & Suddath, 2005; Egan & Campbell, 2009 & Selby, Anestis & Joiner (2007), and finally, revenge fantasies – concerning those who have experienced trauma (Mardi & Harowitz, 2007). In search of material for this review surprise has it that homicidal fantasies on the whole is the one of which focuses on a more simple view of its apparent natural occurrence in natural surroundings of everyday life, and highlights the evolving acceptance that many normal law abiding citizens can and do have fantasies.

Sustaining Fantasy

From a study conducted by Zelin et al (1983) the Sustaining Fantasy Questionnaire (SFQ) was developed to measure sustaining functions in psychiatric inpatients in comparison with non-patients. This questionnaire was constructed specifically to measure fantasies of death, withdrawal, restitution, suffering, God, closeness, power and revenge, admiration of self, competition and aesthetics. The questionnaire was then utilised to determine that psychiatric inpatients scored higher than non-patients on fantasies of death, withdrawal, restitution, suffering, God and closeness but fantasies of power and revenge, admiration of self, competition and aesthetics did not differentiate between groups. Thus, suggesting that the questionnaire was able to differentiate the groups by fantasy factors such as death, withdrawal, restitution, suffering, God and closeness and highlighted associations of power and revenge, admiration of self, competition and aesthetics with an independent measure of psychology.

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It is said that experiencing Sustaining Fantasies is a familiar, consistent and repetitive conscious fantasy adopted to help cope with feelings of a painful and stressful situation. According to Zelin et al (1983) the sustaining fantasy is a concept based on the observation that at times of extreme negative emotional states, caused by anger or narcissistic grievance, people often resort to this as a means of re-creating a more ideal situation than that of which stimulated the painful experience, fabricating a sense of satisfaction, restoring self-esteem and emotional equilibrium, and decreasing frustration. Ultimately, the sustaining fantasy is based on the assumption that such fantasies signify and demonstration the basic construction and processes that have evolved in the course of efforts to adapt to painful situations. We are reminded by Zelin et al (1983) that this fantasy is of a specific type called only into play when suffering increasing levels of stress, and should not be confused by those fantasies used as a disguised endeavour of pleasure or solutions to relatively un-stressful problems, such studies will be discussed later in the review.

One year on, Harder & Zelin (1984) furthered the study of Zelin et al (1983) accepting that the sustaining fantasy questionnaire was developed primarily with psychiatric inpatients, but recognising also, the potential for its use in testing correlates among a more general sample. Assuming that everyone uses sustaining fantasies to aid or support themselves through highly stressful periods in life and presuming the importance of this factor in the capability to manage adaptively rather than maladaptively, Harder & Zelin (1984) extended interests and investigations into the personality functioning in the general population as well as with pathological persons.

They did this by examining the relationship between the 10 types of sustaining fantasies reported by Zelin et al (1983) and two dimensions of self-concept – self-derogation and stability of self-concept, suspecting that the type of sustaining fantasy that the person characteristically brings into play will be consistent with and in support of their self-concept, an important relation with psychological-social adjustment and even a potential determinant of psychological-social adjustment. Successfully, the results demonstrated that the Sustaining Fantasy Questionnaire was reliable not only to differentiate between groups of psychiatric inpatients from normal controls, as Zelin et al (1983) demonstrated, but also to distinguish the group of college students used in this study.

Just over a decade later Greenwald & Harder (1994) followed on from Zelin et al (1983), attempting to examine the expected associations between psychopathology, almost replicating exactly, apart from their use of a student population primarily from a middle-class backgrounds. In addition, Greenwald & Harder (1994) questioned if the sustaining fantasy scales associated with weaker functioning, reflects a more general pathology factor as proposed in the data of Zelin et al (1983) or, whether each reflects a particular maladaptive style that is signified by an exceptional construction of associations with the MMPI clinical scales. Further support and reliability of Zelin et al (1983) is strengthened in Greenwald & Harder’s (1994) findings that power/revenge, death/illness, withdrawal/protection and suffering are all related significantly to two of the MMPI measures of overall psychopathology, therefore four of the six fantasy types that imply psychopathology in the inpatients (Zelin et al, 1983) were too the indicators of pathology in the study using the middle-class students.

Considering all of the previously mentioned studies (Zelin et al, 1983; Harder & Zelin, 1984; Greenwald & Harder, 1994) it seems fair to say that ample evidence has been gathered to show that definite types of sustaining fantasy ideas, characteristically used to comfort the self when experiencing feelings of hurt and stress, are associated with indications of psychopathological adjustment. The aim for Greenwald & Harder (1995) was then to examine to what extent there are parallels between them and the degree to which such content ideas may well point out psychopathology. With reference to past research on daydreaming, where Singer & Antrobus (1972) have suggested that particular collections of imagery content appear to propose less favourable styles, there seems to be similarities with the findings of Zelin et al (1983), although they did emphasise the difference between other fantasies such as daydreams and remind us not to confuse them.

Contrary to this emphasis and that of Zelin et al (1983), clinical impressions have proposed that in more ways than one, the overall content of these two types of fantasies is rather parallel. As a result of this proposal, Greenwald & Harder (1995) investigated whether sustaining fantasies generally show a strong similarity to the typical daydreams preferred by an individual, or whether there really is a movement from the content of ordinary daydreams to the familiar self-comforting ones that provide support during feelings of pain and stress. To do this they compared the Sustaining Fantasy Questionnaire and the numerous Imaginal Process Inventory (IPI) (Singer & Antrobus, 1972) scales for correspondence in content and in their relationships to measures of psychopathology, and a great deal of consistency was discovered even when partialling for social desirability. It was concluded that there was in fact considerable overlap in the content and of correspondence between both, sustaining fantasy and daydreams, and furthermore, it was highlighted that three particular IPI scales were observed to give significant indications of psychopathology – fear reaction, bizarre and hostile.

Despite the delight in these findings Greenwald & Harder (1995) speculated the possibility that rather than the findings being a result of specific content they may be the result of a broad level of association between the two scales. In pursuit of this speculation further analysis detected the average degree of correlation between SFQ and IPI characteristics in comparison to the level of association displayed by those relationships they predicted, finding that although there was no significance, there was a trend toward significance. Thus, suggesting that a general commonality between the SFQ and the IPI may have been a factor in contributing to the extent of their success in predictions for the study.

On this note one should be reminded that for the purpose of reliability and validity, considering an underlying weakness alongside the success is vital for future study in terms of recognising the possibility for individuals to very well fantasize and daydream simultaneously in ordinary and/or stressful situations. It is now becoming apparent that sustaining fantasies are perhaps not quite as specific from other fantasies in particular situations such as coping with stressful matters, as was first thought, or, that if they are, they do not always emerge completely alone. Based on the results of this study Greenwald & Harder (1995) propose the question of whether it would be beneficial to use the findings of their study, subsequent past research, to investigate clinical manipulation of the content and/or frequency of fantasy having therapeutic effects, bearing in mind the given definition of sustaining fantasy in Zelin et al (1983) at the beginnings of this extensive research.

To address the proposed questions that emerged from Greenwald & Harder (1995) they conducted another study in 1997 replicating the previously discussed studies and replicating reported relationships between coping behaviours and psychopathology however, this time they utilised measurement instruments that were developed by different investigators, presented different response formats, and were not developed to measure the same content areas as before. They assessed whether consistent relationships exist between the content of self-reported coping behaviours, sustaining fantasies, and ordinary daydreams and in addition attempted to identify coping behaviours associated with psychopathology, exploring any connections between coping behaviours, fantasies, and daydreams correlated with pathology.

Pearson correlations indicated similar content between coping behaviours and the two types of fantasy and significant inter-correlations were found between sustaining fantasies, daydreams, and coping behaviours that, separately, were found to be significantly associated with psychopathology. In the process of this investigation, and with influencing thoughts created by the previous workings, Greenwald and Harder (1997) took into consideration the likelihood to expect there would be a consistency between the region of fantasy and behaviour, and that individuals would report thoughts and action in parallel ways but then again, consider also that it is also probable to anticipate that fantasies could serve as a substitute for action, and that a report of specific fantasy content might be inversely associated with behaviour that contains similar content.

Growing in strength, again the results of Greenwald & Harder (1997) were successful in that there is a significant association with regard to the content among self-reported daydreams, sustaining fantasies, and coping behaviours, even after controlling for social desirability. These results are found to be more influential due to the fact that they were obtained with assessment instruments that were developed by different investigators, used different response formats, and were not developed to measure the same content areas.

Therefore, this information suggest that, while there may be some instances of fantasies and behaviours that relate inversely to each other, fantasies usually are consistent with behavioural coping styles. These findings then highlight that there is a complex of daydreams, fantasies, and behavioural responses that could be used to characterize individuals. Furthermore, to generalize the findings of this study it was recommended that future studies should be conducted with other subject populations that take into account age, culture, socioeconomic status and residence environment (Greenwald & Harder, 1997), however, it seems appropriate to mention that perhaps at this point it is a good time to look at how the sustaining fantasy ideology has branched out to embrace other influencing factors.

Aggressive Fantasies

Egan & Campbell (2009) expanded research on sustaining fantasies almost taking it to a new level by selecting a diverse population, as recommended by Greenwald & Harder (1997), but more importantly taking into account other domains that showed potential to reveal relationships from another angle. Such were, sensational topics, general personality traits, and self-reported physical aggression. They found relationships between sensational interests and physical aggression, regardless of gender. Personality and the application of negative sustaining fantasies significantly forecast physical aggression.

When the SFQ was reduced to three higher order factors; positive, negative, and narcissistic sustaining fantasies, correlations were found between neuroticism (N) and both positive and negative sustaining fantasies, although the association was stronger for negative fantasies. There were small associations between positive sustaining fantasies and indirect non-physical hostility although these relations were humble, and openness (O) was a stronger predictor. Narcissistic sustaining fantasies related to low levels of agreeableness (A), replicating associations between low A and narcissism generally. Ultimately proposing that aggressive and hostile persons are more stimulated by violent stimuli and that isolation is a further risk-increasing factor for aggressive interests.

Following on from this conclusion of risk-increasing factors, attention was directed back a few years in literature to a study conducted by Gellerman & Suddath (2005). They discussed risk-increasing factors in relation to questioning at what point would a health professional perhaps become concerned with a person’s fantasy enough for it to become their duty to forewarn or protect others from potential dangerousness, or even attempt to protect the person from them self. In the health profession an evaluation of dangerousness includes not only asking about violent fantasies but also asking about physical and sexual content (Gellerman & Suddath, 2005).

Gellerman and Suddath (2005) looked at the conditions in which the disclosure of violent fantasies to a mental health professional may generate cause for concern and a duty to warn or protect other citizens. Reviewing legal cases in which violent fantasies were considered in the context of measuring potential dangerousness and the literature available on homicidal and sexually violent fantasies in both non-incarcerated and criminal populations was also examined. It was concluded that no dependable predictive relationship between violent fantasies and wickedly hazardous behaviour was reported in the available literature and suggestions of issues that mental health professionals may think about when gauging whether a particular violent fantasy is a sign for concern requiring rise to a duty in protecting others.

At last, this paper is very interesting in that it is greatly unbiased and clearly discusses both the harmful aspects of fantasy as well as the innocent or un-harmful aspects, thus showing the importance of distinguishing between the two possibilities, which must be said, is something that is lacking in the papers previously reviewed. Gellerman and Suddath (2005) explained in detail the definition of violent fantasy for the purpose of their paper which must be credited as again, not many papers in this field have done so. They expressed their perception of violent fantasy as a thought in which an individual imagines physically harming a fellow human being in some way. They explain that the content of individual fantasies may vary from anything such as murder, sexual assault, or inappropriate sexual activity.

It is emphasised that fantasy must be distinguished from an intention, in that the imaginary violence is not instantaneously designed to guide or prepare for action. On the other hand, it is said that any expression of intention to harm another person is when we should have cause for concern as this is without doubt communicating a “threat” rather than a fantasy. Gellerman and Suddath (2005) noted two important points in terms of distinguishing between fantasy being harmless or harmful, firstly, while not instantaneously aimed at guiding action, fantasy has been illustrated as serving a number of clinical functions, including control and relief of anxiety and substitution for action therefore harmless to others and at the same time very useful to the fantasizer, secondly, from a harmful perspective fantasy may also be preparation for action and it is from this perspective that concern should be heightened in the evaluation of dangerousness and the duty to protect.

Gellerman and Suddath (2005) go on to give balanced examples of both harmless and harmful fantasies. In their comparisons of both sides and in both populations, un-incarcerated and criminal, together with their overall review of the literature they used, they suggest that as fantasies of murder were fairly common in general Western European and American populations, and a range of fantasies of aggression and sexual violence were less common, but were by no means rare, people should bear in mind that this high prevalence of homicidal and sexually aggressive fantasy can only make us question then, to what extent can such fantasies be considered deviant.

In addition it should be highlighted that Gellerman and Suddath (2005) found that existing studies have evidently established that many more individuals have homicidal and sexually violent fantasies than act on them. The relationship between violent fantasy and behaviour in these studies was correlative at best, and no suggestions were given in attempt to identifying the minority of individuals with violent fantasies who may be at risk of acting them out. Altogether, it was concluded that predictors better than fantasies alone are the eminence of the fantasies, the concern with them, and the level of preparation and detail, and the history of any past violent behaviours all need to be looked at collectively (Gellerman & Suddath, 2005).

Another study of interest where aggressive fantasies seek personal pleasure but in a paradoxical way is that of Selby, Anestis & Joiner (2007). They reported that suicidal individuals regularly report the reoccurrence of fantasy where they can visualise their death by suicide very clearly in their imagination, almost like watching it on TV. Selby et al (2007) found that many unremittingly suicidal individuals are thought to have a romantic affection for death and as a result, connect themselves in vivid fantasies or daydreams about the process and the after-effects. This somewhat idealistic thought process even appears to be a pleasant motion for them.

In desperation of escape from torment and pain (Baumeister, 1990), it seems that the act of suicide is the answer and therefore thinking about the liberation that death would present, perhaps enables suicidal individuals to experience positive affects similar to that of non-suicidal individuals daydreaming or fantasizing about future life events such as holidays (Selby et al, 2007). This daydreaming may actually be a form of emotion dysregulation, in suicidal individuals, one that would appear, perhaps paradoxically, to increase positive affect yet may increase later risk for serious suicidal behaviour. This psychological state was also considered by Zelin et al (1983).

Revenge Fantasies

Suicidal behaviour, just like the fantasies they provoke, vary in content and from person to person however for the purpose of this review it should be mentioned that revenge fantasies among many other things, can often be the cause for suicidal behaviour (Mardi & Harowitz, 2007). In one way the reason behind the fantasies are similar per se; feelings of rage shame guilt etc., but in another way very different; often unwanted and uncontrollable. Revenge fantasies are described as being beyond normal bitter thoughts and sometimes dangerous. The study conducted by Mardi & Harowitz (2007) was an attempt to seek solutions to a hypothetical case demonstrating a problem existing in clinical practice.

The method behind this is for the authors to review current data on prevalence, diagnosis, pathophysiology, and treatment and ultimately conclude treatment recommendations. Again it is brought to attention that the quantity of literature addressing fantasy is limited, Mardi & Harowitz (2007) pointed out at the beginning of their paper that revenge fantasies have been discussed in literature, however not adequately addressed, a problem common for most papers in this review. Like all other fantasies per se, revenge fantasies can provide a sense of reinstated purpose and regain of control in an otherwise traumatized life and purely for this purpose it is imperative to assist traumatized individuals in recognizing this.

Mardi & Harowitz (2007) split the scenario up into sections in sequence to how step by step the scenario would be assessed and addressed in a clinical setting. All important techniques and procedures were discussed such as, the importance of techniques in psychotherapy being put in place with the much needed interpretations and reappraisals and with careful differentiation of rational and irrational beliefs. It was explained that it is then, that the function of revenge fantasies as giving an illusion of strength can be interpreted.

Mardi & Harowitz (2007) suggest the fact that the results of therapy may be attenuation of symptoms, and revenge fantasies are deep-rooted, there is an important need for informing the patients that revenge fantasies are likely to return, and are frequently generated by things as simple as seeing a movie, being hurt, or entering an irritated mood as a result of fatigue. Mardi & Harowitz (2007) go on to explain that the professional should help the patient plan a comeback, which can engage in reviewing a pre-established set of ideas, overall they express that their goal is to help the patient gain a sense of restored control, self-esteem, and self-coherence without resorting to the ‘strong-me’ property of a revenge fantasy.

Taking into account the apparent lack of topic specific resources that provide general information on the influences of fantasy in the general public, and the gaps that seem wide open between studies in fantasy, it seems fair to say that the beginning would be a good place to start. As a result the current study will seek to investigate attitudes of the general public toward fantasies, looking to find out what they think fantasies might be and to what extent they think it is normal for people to have them. It will be hypothesised that most people will believe that a fantasy is a mere thought of imagination detached from reality to satisfy emotional desires without logical or moral constraints and likewise most people will agree that it is normal to have fantasies. It is expected that more people will agree, than disagree, that it is ok and can be accepted as normal for people to have homicidal fantasies.



A between-participants point biserial correlation will be used to analyse the data. The independent variables will be the self report personality inventory (IPIP-NEO) and the attitude measuring questions and the dependent variable will be participants score on the IPIP-NEO and the attitude score. Variables such as gender, age, marital status, housing tenure, regions, employment status, income bracket and criminal convictions will also be considered in relation to participant response to both independent variables.


According to G Power participant number should be 191, however, for an equal balance, it will be at least 100 males and 100 females. The male and female participants will be ages of or between 21 and 65, and split between four regions (Glasgow, Paisley, Edinburgh & Dundee).


Participant information sheets (PIS) and consent forms will be given along with questionnaires that will be used to measure psychopathic personality traits (IPIP-NEO) and attitudes on aggressive revenge fantasies. Each participant will be given the same questionnaire to complete. The statistical analysis programme SPSS will be used to analyse and correlate the data.


Each participant will be given a brief introduction of the study and asked if they are willing to take part, if they are willing then they will be asked to carefully read the PIS, sign the consent form, which will be detached from the questionnaire as they will be anonymous, and complete the questionnaire. The questionnaire consists of a self-report personality inventory, the International Personality Item Pool – NEO (IPIP-NEO) developed by Witt, Donnellan & Blonigen (2009), of which permission for use was granted by Edward A. Witt.

This 40 item inventory will measure the psychopathic personality traits of fearless dominance (20 items) and Impulsive Antisociality (20 items) to assess how high or low participants score in comparison with each other. A four-option multiple response (False, Mostly False, Mostly True, True) format and a Likert-type scale will be used (False = 1, Mostly False = 2, Mostly True = 3, True = 4) to measure the data. In exception, the 1st, 4th, 9th, 14th, 15th,16th and 17th questions of Fearless Dominance will be measured in reverse scale. The second part of the questionnaire consists of 10 questions regarding attitudes toward people having revenge fantasies. Again, a four-option multiple response (strongly disagree, disagree, agree, strongly agree) format and a Likert-type scale will be used (strongly disagree = 1, disagree = 2, agree = 3, strongly agree = 4) to measure the data.


Baumeister, R. F. (1990). Suicide as Escape from Self. Psychological Review, 97, 90-113.

Egan, V. & Campbell, V. (2009) Sensational Interests, Sustaining Fantasies and Personality Predict Physical Aggression. Personality and Individual Differences, 47, 464-469

Gellerman, D. M. & Suddath, R. (2005). Violent Fantasy, Dangerousness, and the Duty to Warn and Protect. Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatric Law, 33, 484-495.

Greenwald, D. F. & Harder, D. W. (1994). Sustaining Fantasies and Psychopathology in a Normal Sample. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 50, 705-708.

Greenwald, D. F. & Harder, D. W. (1995). Sustaining Fantasies, Daydreams, and Psychopathology. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 51, 719-726.

Greenwald, D. F. & Harder, D. W. (1997). Fantasies, Coping Behaviour, and Psychopathology. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 53, 91-97.

Harder, D. W. & Zelin, M. L. (1984). Sustaining Fantasies and Self-Concept Among College Students. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 40, 743-748

Mardi, J. & Harowitz, M. D. (2007). Understanding and Ameliorating Revenge Fantasies in Psychotherapy. American Journal of Psychiatry, 164, 24-27.

Selby, E. A., Anestis, M. D. & Joiner Jr, T. E. (2007). Daydreaming About Death: Violent Daydreaming as a Form of Emotion Dysregulation in Suicidality. Behavior Modification, 31, 867-879.

Singer, J. L. & Antrobus, J. S. (1972). Daydreaming, Imaginal Processes and Personality: A Normative Study. In P. W. Sheehan (Ed.). The function and nature of imagery. (pp. 175-202). New York: Academic Press.

Witt, E. A., Donnellan, M. B. & Blonigen, D. M. (2009). Using Existing Self-Report Inventories to Measure the Psychopathic Personality Trait of Fearless Dominance and Impulsive Antisociality. Journal of Research in Personality, 43, 1006-1016.

Zelin, M. L., Bernstein, S. B., Heijn, C., Jampel, R. M., Myerson, P. G., Adler, G., Buie, D. H. & Rizzuto, A. M. (1983). The Sustaining Fantasy Questionnaire: Measurement of Sustaining Functions in Psychiatric Inpatients. Journal of Personality Assessment, 47, 427- 439.


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