Be Wary: Your Brain Doesn’t Know The Difference Between Reality and Imagination

Joe Gibson, Above The Middle
6 min readJun 20, 2021

Before we begin be sure to check out my YouTube. I post videos every Wednesday on topics relating to mental health, psychology and personal development. New subscribers are always welcome. I appreciate the support!

The more I research I do on psychology and the brain, the more I realise the brain is both fascinatingly complex and deceivingly simple. Today I wanted to touch on that.

Our brains can’t tell the difference between reality and our thoughts.

Practically, this only makes sense. For example, It doesn’t matter if an anxiety sufferer is experiencing an anxious situation or imagining it, they will experience a stress response either way. Stress hormones like cortisol and fight/flight hormones like adrenaline are released regardless of if they are in a stressful situation or not. To put it simply, their brains can’t tell the difference between what is reality and what is imagined.

Scientific studies back this up. One study in particular, took two groups of individuals and asked one to play a specific set of keys on the piano and the other to imagine playing a set of keys. Under both circumstances, whilst being scanned, brain activity significantly increased in brain regions corresponding to motor movement of the hand. This is significant as our brains clearly cannot differentiate between what is reality and what is not. Just like our anxiety example.

What we imagine has a tremendous impact on our mind and body. Being unaware of destructive thought patterns, therefore, has the ability to hinder the daily reality we experience. Becoming more aware of such patterns brings with it the ability to recognise when our bodies are caught in illusions of the mind. Putting a stop to harmful thought patterns allows us to remain firmly planted in the present moment.

Let’s look at some more ways where imagination negatively impacts our lives

1. Self-depreciation, de-motivation

An obvious example, and a hallmark of depression and low mood, is consistent self-depreciation as a result of negative thinking. Negative self-talk drives you into ruminative thinking around worries regarding your future…

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Joe Gibson, Above The Middle

Your path to authentic love and secure relationships starts here. Above The Middle, a blog by me, Joe Gibson.