Daydreaming Gets a Bad Rap

Do you daydream? Of course you do. Everyone does but often we don’t like to admit it because it is associated with laziness or inattentiveness. Well daydreamers, you can all relax – so to speak. New research from Kalina Christoff and her associates at the University of British Columbia indicates that when we daydream the brain is much more active, in important ways, than was previously thought.

The researchers had their subjects undergo a functional MRI thus enabling them to track blood flow in the brain.  By tracking a subjects brain blood flow in this way, they were able to see how the flow changes in response to different activities. Subjects were given a routine task that involved pushing a button when they saw a number come up on a screen. They were also monitored for their attention to the task or for subjective reports that they were daydreaming. The results showed that the brain was more highly activitated when they were daydreaming than when they were simply responding to a routine task. Furthermore, the area of the brain that was activated when daydreaming (i.e., the prefrontal cortex) is associated with complex problem solving.

This finding suggests that daydreaming can be a valuable use of time. One would hope so as daydreaming can occupy up to a third of our waking lives. While daydreaming we may be trying to problem solve important issues related to our relationships or career. However, it is important to distinguish between distraction and daydreaming. Getting distracted by noises or brief images in your environment is not the same as daydreaming. When you daydream you are focused in your imagination and likely to be doing some problem solving. This is not the case when you are simply easily distractible.

Are you a daydreamer? Are you easily distracted? Are you both? Have you felt badly about being a daydreamer? Tell us about your experience!

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