The Benefits of Daydreaming

By: Jenna Savage

It is common for children to grow up being told to minimize daydreaming, and instead to focus on lessons and class work. Historically, daydreaming has not been credited with accomplishing anything other than distraction. Students that act introspective and go off on their own thoughts, rather than focusing on the teacher, the blackboard, or their class work, are often encouraged to stop allowing their attention to drift off and to bring themselves back into the present moment. Even in movies, daydreaming students are depicted as disinterested in school work and their futures. Traditionally, daydreaming is seen as a practice that results in negative consequences.

But recent studies are beginning to subvert those common beliefs by pointing out the potential benefits that daydreaming may provide. PsychCentral, using information published in Perspectives on Psychological Science, reports that Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, psychological scientist and researcher, recently examined scientific writings and studies to gain a better understanding of the role of a reflective brain. These studies have shown that the brain has a network that is active when a person is daydreaming – and that brain network can help fuel memory and learning.

The caveat is that the brain activity that takes place during daydreams differs depending on a variety of factors, including self-awareness and socio-emotional functioning, according to the article. Immordino-Yang theorizes that fast-paced environments and the advent of technology like the Internet may keep students from daydreaming, minimizing the benefits derived from self-reflection. As a result, students’ morals and socio-emotional wellness may suffer.

Though paying attention in school is important, these results suggest that there should be time for students to daydream, too. Giving them the opportunity to reflect and daydream can help nurture learning and development, the article suggests. Research also indicates that when students are permitted to daydream, they experience less anxiety and become more motivated. On the other hand, if students are cautioned against daydreaming, their knowledge of themselves and the world around them may suffer.

As a result, educators are encouraged to promote a balance between outward and inward attention. A little bit of daydreaming to break up the hard focus on school activities can be beneficial, and it may help students become better, active learners.

As for students, the lesson here is not to be afraid of doing some daydreaming. Sure, you want to pay attention to the vital information conveyed to you during your classes, but don’t get discouraged if your mind wanders. A little bit of daydreaming is healthy.