Daydreaming represents the use of the mind and brain to engage in a temporary fantasy that offers a brief escape from daily reality. It involves either memories of previous experiences or wishful thoughts about the future.
Daydreams utilize the imagination when they involve thoughts about experiences that have not occurred. They may involve fantasies, wishes for the future, the development of thoughts or plans for how to achieve goals, or may have no relationship to present life situations, as in a romantic fantasy about a celebrity or dreams of being a superhero. Although the estimates vary widely depending upon the expert rendering the opinion, the consensus among psychologists is that nearly half of waking time is spent in daydreams. Daniel Gilbert and Matthew A. Killingsworth, psychologists at Harvard University, are quoted in The New Yorker on Jun 5, 2012, as reporting that “people let their minds wander forty-seven percent of the time they are awake,” based on their study of selfreported behavior among 250 volunteers.
A daydream may be triggered by a situation, a memory, or a sensory input (sight, taste, smell, sound, touch).
Daydreaming generally is not harmful, and may even have benefits as a means of objective problemsolving. If the frequency of daydreaming episodes becomes sufficiently great as to interfere with activities of daily living, it can be problematic. For example, when a student spends so much class time daydreaming that she fails to obtain adequate lecture notes or he begins to miss assignments, it may be time to consider whether the daydreaming is excessive enough to have become a behavioral health disorder.
Daydreaming generally is reported first in very young children, typically before the age of three years. These early daydreams tend to set the pattern for adult daydreaming. Children who have positive, happy daydreams of success and achievement often continue these patterns throughout the lifespan; these daydreamers are most likely to benefit from the positive aspects of mental imagery. Daydreams assist the individual with problemsolving, enhance creativity, or can lead to novel problem-solving resulting in positive life outcomes. Children whose daydreams are negative, frightening, or who visualize disasters are more likely to experience anxiety; left unchecked, this pattern may continue into adulthood. Young children are more likely than older children to describe or to act out their daydreams and fantasies.
It is not unusual for a daydream, or series of daydreams, to precede an episode of enhanced creativity. Many individuals, including athletes, musicians, writers, and others use a form of daydreaming known as visualization as a means of rehearsal or enhancement of future performance. As the individual prepares for a competition or performance, he or she forms a mental picture of herself perfectly executing and completing the task at hand.
See also Creativity ; Dreams ; Fantasy ; Hallucinations .
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The New Yorker. “The Virtues of Daydreaming.” June 5, 2012. http://www.newyorker.com/tech/frontal-cortex/the-virtues-of-daydreaming (accessed December 15, 2014).
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