Daydream for Better Brains


Paying attention to what's going on around you is a completely different brain "network" than paying attention to your own thoughts. Research suggests[1] that not using the internal or "daydreaming network" enough may undermine creative thinking, social emotions and the ability for children, youth and adults to make sense of the world.

Daydreaming benefits brain function[2], not to mention that it is a form of tension-free pleasure.

The Rewards of Daydreaming

  • Improved moral reasoning
  • Stronger empathy + compassion
  • Enhanced memory 
  • Better perspective taking.

In the following video, research psychologist Mary Helen Immordino-Yang[3] explains the 2 brain mechanisms that work to both "paying attention to the outside world" and to daydream. She shares research suggesting the need for a balance of these two systems for healthy brain function.


5 Ways to Promote Daydreaming?

  1. Be OK with idle time. Over-scheduled families have very little time for the brain to let go of the tensions of the world and daydream. Instead, scheduled time forces the external thinking network to stay in charge, creating an imbalance of brain function.
  2. Don't snap kids out of a daydream. Encourage these moments by giving them time and space to develop.  
  3. Encourage time and activities, such as walks around the neighborhood, without an electronic device. The constant interruption from social media prevents the daydreaming network to operate.
  4. Don't be afraid of being bored. When we fill our time with passive entertainment (often through screens[4]) we get out of practice of creating our own entertainment which often includes a daydreaming and imaginative component.
  5. Model this behavior for them and re-discover your own love of daydreaming.

People who daydream seem to be better at creative thinking because daydreams can generate insight through reflection and meaning making.

While Freud called daydreaming "neurotic," and people still condemn idle time as wasted, brain science confirms that daydreaming is both healthy and necessary for well-being.

Mary Helen Immordino-Yang is a faculty member of the University of Southern California. Her research includes brain function (including daydreaming) linked to creativity and human development in the social & emotional brain.

Build a family screen time agreement to create a balance of online and off-line time that fosters respect and meaningful connections among family members.