Research into imagination leads English Heritage to introduce adult dress-up

Image: Adult fancy dress (English Heritage)

Eleven sites will offer adult historical costumes as its research with the University of Kent suggests that imagination does not decrease with age

Historical ‘dress up’ costumes targeted at adults are to be introduced at 11 English Heritage sites this summer.

The move follows new research, commissioned by the charity and conducted by the University of Kent, which suggest that the adult imagination is more active than that of children.

It said the results of the study “directly refutes the commonly held belief that we become less imaginative as we get older.”

The research into the effects of age on the imagination was conducted by the University of Kent’s School of Psychology. Over 470 people aged between 4 and 81 were asked to imagine how unfamiliar historical objects could have been used. The answers were assessed on a range of characteristics including the number of unique responses, and how close the guesses were to the object’s actual function.

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

Adolescents and young adults came up with a larger number of suggestions and these ideas spanned a wider range of categories than other age groups, which English Heritage said suggests different age groups have different strengths when it comes to the imagination” .

English Heritage has used these findings for its ‘One Extraordinary Summer’ events programme, and will be introducing hands-on history sessions and historical adult dress-up opportunities.

The new adult dressing-up costumes range from Roman togas, Medieval chainmail and WWII uniform, through to Victorian suits and Tudor gowns.

Whitby Abbey in Yorkshire will 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.

Dr Angela Nyhout, Assistant Professor at the University of Kent’s School of Psychology, led the team that conducted the research.

She said the research “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: “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!”