Daydream Believing: Imagining Connections

Imagine this scenario. You’re working away in your cubicle, and a co-worker strolls by, humming a tune. You recognize it as an old ballad, Suzanne, and you immediately think of your friend, Suzanne, who you haven’t talked to in a while. How is she? She was frustrated at work last time you chatted. Wonder if she’s okay now. And then you remember–it’s her birthday next week. You should buy her a little something, but what? She loves daisies, and she usually gathers for her birthday with a small group of family and friends, including Drew. Wonder what Drew is up to these days. . . .

Then, snap! You’re back in your cubicle, and work is demanding your attention.

It’s a daydream, the sort of mental drifting we all go through every day, many times a day–while walking to the office, making dinner, catching rays on the beach. Just random firings of the imagination, here and gone in a moment.

Or are they? We tend to think of daydreams as distracting or entertaining–not much more. But new research is calling this view into question. Psychological scientist Giulia Poerio of the University of Sheffield has been studying daydreaming–and its cognitive cousin, mind wandering–and she believes we may be underestimating the power of this fleeting form of imagination. We spend an inordinate amount of our waking time daydreaming–half of our waking thought, according to some estimates–and much of this drifting is social in nature. Is it possible that imagining others shapes our momentary feelings, and affects our overall well-being–much like real events?

That’s the intriguing idea that Poerio and her colleagues have been investigating in a series of laboratory studies. She wanted to explore whether social daydreams, like the one described above, are associated with increases in social emotions. She used an experience sampling technique to —> Read More