What kids can teach us about daydreaming

Although daydreaming may seem like a waste of time, many scientists now believe that a wandering mind may be an essential element to creativity, allowing our mind to make new associations and connections by engaging in abstract thought and imaginative ramblings.

In fact, some psychologists estimate that people let their minds wander 47 percent of the time they are awake. By ‘eavesdropping on the unconscious’ they believe we are able to relax and refresh our brain and hypothesise different possibilities, in the past or future.

"Day­dreaming has a learning function. When you daydream about things that already happened, you review things and think about alternatives,” said Professor Emeritus Eric Klinger from the University of Minnesota. “So if you remember going to a party, you might think, what would have happened if I’d said something different?" 

In most instances, our daydreams are not of handsome strangers or tropical beaches, but rather an unconscious map of our everyday goals, aspirations and apprehensions, which vary greatly from one person to the next. Dr Jerome Singer, an emeritus professor of Psychology at Yale University, pioneered research into daydreaming in the 1960s and found that younger children tends to verbalise their thoughts, but by the time they reach school they are conditioned to keep some thoughts to themselves and so they enter a private world of daydreaming1.

Daydreaming helps children, who lack real-world experience, to process complex information and emotions, which can boost their language skills and performance at school. Research also suggests that children who don't get enough down time to daydream or who fill in their down time with too much television may become less creative and imaginative.

According to a study by the University of British Columbia, the part of our brains associated with complex problem-solving is highly active while we daydream, much more than when we focus on routine tasks. Often, we are unaware that we have drifted off.

Dr Jonathan Schooler, Professor of Psychology at the University of California, believes that paying attention to your daydreaming may lead you to become more creative.

“If a great idea pops into your mind and you didn’t notice it, what good is it?” Schooler asks. “You need to daydream, but you also need to take stock of the content of your daydreams; otherwise you could have a creative thought and never notice it.”

If you’re trying to solve a complex problem, Dr Schooler suggests giving yourself a break to spend time on mundane tasks that allow your mind to wander productively, such as cleaning, jogging or just doodling on a piece of paper.

 “The good news is that there’s no reason to feel guilty when taking a break or not checking your e-mail,” Dr Schooler said. “Because it turns out that even when you’re on vacation, the unconscious is probably still working on the problem.

Do you catch yourself when your mind wanders during the day?

 

References

 [1] Singer, J.L 1966, The Inner World of Daydreaming, Harper, USA.

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