I Am a Daydream Believer, and You Should Be Too

We sure do make life hard on ourselves, don’t we? For example: the afternoon nap. Ah, glorious afternoon nap, how I miss you! Oh, sure, it’s a good and important thing for preschool children, and it’s excusable when it’s Grandma Madeline in her La-Z-Boy. But for the rest of us? Sorry, no. And daydreaming? Whether you are a student at your desk, a teacher at the window, or a husband in a hammock, daydreaming is grounds for a reprimand, or worse—public shaming. Yet we may just be making life hard on ourselves. Daydreaming may not only be normal, it may be a sign of a brain functioning at a higher level.

A recent study* by researchers at the University of Wisconsin and the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Science reveals that “the mental processes underlying daydreaming may be quite similar to those of the brain’s working memory system.”

A Smithsonian article summarizing the study’s findings notes “Previously, working memory had been correlated with measures of intelligence, such as IQ score. But this study shows how working memory is also closely tied to our tendency to think beyond our immediate surroundings at any given time.” In other words, daydreaming is the brain’s way of utilizing unused thinking space to work out important problems.

So the next time you look over at a student (or Mailbox editor) clearly daydreaming, step back and realize that a genius is at work.

Share your thoughts with us. How do you deal with daydreamers in your classroom.

*The study, titled “The Persistence of Thought: Evidence for a Role of Working Memory in the Maintenance of Task-Unrelated Thinking,” was published online in the journal Psychological Science in March, 2012.

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