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Brain research: daydreams spur creativity

Daydreaming is something for people without mental discipline. A childish move that experts even thought could make you too neurotic. Sigmund Freud warned "Daydreams are the next preliminary stages of hysterical symptoms". But now researchers are discovering the point of daydreaming. Jonathan Schooler, Professor of Psychology at the University of California at Santa Barbara, shares what daydreams are for.

World online: Sometimes our brain flees from reality and we begin to dream away. What shoud that?

Jonathan Schooler: Our thoughts jump back and forth between internal and external matters. They compete for our attention: on the one hand there are goals that we want to achieve, plans that need to be made for them, and just things that are unclear to us and that we need to think about. On the other hand, there are external matters: in other words, what we should actually be dealing with in the here and now, checking emails, for example. When these tasks do not demand so much from us, our brain reacts efficiently: It switches our thoughts to the things that occupy us internally.

On the other hand, it can of course also be the case that our mind only needs a break. Daydreaming is a great way to relax.

World online: Do you say simply letting your mind wander is efficient? It doesn't seem like that to me. ...

Schooler: Well, you may not be very successful at what you are actually working on. But let's say you are going for a walk with your dog or are in the shower: In these situations, your brain has free capacities that you can use - for daydreaming, for example.

World online: So are there good and bad daydreams?

Schooler: Daydreams are ambiguous. For example, they are the main reason for difficulty understanding reading. People also daydream during important exams. Here you can even predict the test result from the number of daydream episodes. Tomorrow I'm going to NASA to talk to scientists about the importance of mindfulness in aviation. Of course, a dreaming pilot is a great danger. One form of daydreaming that interests me particularly is the form when you are aware that your thoughts are elsewhere. This is called meta-consciousness.

World online: Then what is the difference between active thinking and conscious daydreaming?