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Be a Daydream Believer: No really, science said so.

Monday 5 November 2012
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photo credit: qcpages.qc.cuny.edu


Who remembers the Dreamstone? Few do I'm sure, but here is the first episode. 


Besides my inability to remain employed probably being started by a mixture between my malleable child brain and Rufus' endearing behaviour (if any psychologists ask, this is what I am blaming it on anyway), there is something which needs commenting on.  He is a daydreamer, and, classically daydreamers lack focus, can't seem to keep to a simple task, and let's face it can come across sub-par in the brains category.  So far as being a well-functioning member of a community, you can forget it.

Looking out the window in school, doodling idly or being roused from your brain by a sudden question you weren't listening to may be familiar scenarios for many of us.  In fact, who at some point hasn't just stared, closed their eyes and rested, or plain spaced out while someone waffles on about the virtues and opportunities inherent in wearing a stupid hat and serving coffee?

So if everyone does it, does this mean…does this mean that it may be natural.  If it's natural, could this not mean that, perhaps, our brain is trying to get on with what it feels is important without being forced to learn Geometry. Never…what could be more important to the brain than learning how to figure out the imaginary third angle of a hypothetical triangle?

Well, unless you are an architect, or trying to figure out the circumference of the earth in ancient Greece, the answer is...daydreaming.

Studies have been conducted and their findings published in he July issue of Perspectives on Psychological Science.  They strongly suggest that the brain during rest, as in when the brain is not actively focused on something, is largely correlated with socio-emotional functioning, things such as self-awareness and moral judgement, and in learning and memory. Immordino-Yang, one of the principle researchers says "…inward focus impacts the way we build memories, make meaning and transfer that learning into new contexts."

For a long time the 'executive network' of the brain, the regions of the brain (largely the frontal lobes) which are concerned with complex problem solving, were thought to be dormant when one wasn't actively problem solving.  However, a 2009 University of British Columbia study concluded that this 'executive network' was actually stimulated when the brain was wandering.

A great study conducted by Benjamin Baird and Jonathan Schooler at the University of California at Santa Barbara exhibits this perfectly.

The participants were given a task to make as many interesting uses of everyday objects in two minutes as possible.  The 'unusual use' task. They were then given a 12 minute break and in that time were directed to either rest in a quiet room, perform a difficult short-term memory task, or doing something so boring that it would make the persons mind wander. The control condition was all participants given no break at all.

They found that with all new objects there was little improvement, however if the same objects were used after the break, the group who had been daydreaming overall found 41% more uses for the objects than each of the other groups.

Essentially, when we enter that little world we call our own, it is a process by which we are connecting different concepts and attributing just why the concepts are important by putting them in hypothetical scenarios of ourselves in the future.  Further studies reported on Nature Reviews Neurology by Cognitive Neuroscientist Dr Muireann Irish have concluded on just this. That the areas of the brain which are involved in daydreaming are a network which takes information about the past and makes projections of the future.  Of ourselves in relation to others, who we were, and who we want to be.  

So daydreaming helps us build concepts of ourselves, social encounters, desires, morals and goals, to create a greater understanding of the world at large and our place in it.  The more active information is acquired, the more it can be incorporated into this network, and the more we consolidate a sense of self, understand ourselves as active agents in the world and how our actions affect others, ourself and our immediate environments.

Research conducted by Immordino-Yang also indicates that children that are given the time and skills necessary for reflection are on average more motivated, less anxious, perform better on tests, and plan more effectively for the future.

All things which point to the fact, that sitting back, closing your eyes and letting your mind wander, is as important as actively engaging on things.  It is certainly better than spending hours worrying about blogs, facebook, chatting online, or watching Deal or no Deal (It is as interesting as watching paint dry, but watching paint dry is now proven to be better for you).  Not that in some way they can't be beneficial, but instead potenitally draw us away from much needed reflection.

It is a genuine concern amongst this small community of researchers that the constant bombardment of things begging for your mind to actively engage in, whether it is social networking or even school itself, is hindering our abilities to regulate our emotions and our potential to construct effective goal oriented behaviours and social skills.  

So, rufus and every other space cadet out there, you're right to amble the myriad corners of your own mind. However, that isn't to say that you should spend most your time there as none of it has value unless you also have the time and skills to make ideas happen.

Still, don't forget to occasionally sit back, relax and let your brain do the work.

SOURCE: Huzzah! Magazine
This article was originally written by Patrick Sharkey and published by
Huzzah! Magazine; Positive and interesting current events, well-thought out opinion and promoting local art scenes.

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