April 14, 2014

Why daydreaming is important and should not be medicalized in childhood

Scientists Label Childhood a Disorder

Ever daydream as a child? Perhaps you had “sluggish cognitive tempo,” a condition some mental health leaders say affects as many as two million American children. The NYT reports on the campaign to have “SCT” recognized in the medical community as a legitimate and medically treatable disorder. The symptoms include “lethargy, daydreaming and slow mental processing.”  But not everyone is convinced.

I was not because I remembered one of my very first posts, Does Daydreaming Make You Happy?

After finding that about one child in 30 is brilliant and happy, (Harvard psychologist Burton) White did a great deal of research to determine what demographic or psychological characteristics distinguished those children. But the children came from a wide variety of backgrounds -- rich and poor, small families and large, broken and stable homes, poorly and well-educated parents -- and from all parts of the U.S. Finally, through extensive questioning, he determined that the bright and happy children had only one thing in common: All of them spent noticeable amounts of time staring peacefully and wordlessly into space."

And another from 2009,  good news for those who daydream. Stop paying attention all the time. Zoning Out Is a Crucial Mental State  Researchers say a wandering mind may be important to setting goals, making discoveries, and living a balanced life.

The fact that both of these important brain networks become active together suggests that mind wandering is not useless mental static. Instead, Schooler proposes, mind wandering allows us to work through some important thinking. Our brains process information to reach goals, but some of those goals are immediate while others are distant. Somehow we have evolved a way to switch between handling the here and now and contemplating long-term objectives. It may be no coincidence that most of the thoughts that people have during mind wandering have to do with the future.

Even more telling is the discovery that zoning out may be the most fruitful type of mind wandering….In their fMRI study, Schooler and his colleagues found that the default network and executive control systems are even more active during zoning out than they are during the less extreme mind wandering with awareness. When we are no longer even aware that our minds are wandering, we may be able to think most deeply about the big picture.
Posted by Jill Fallon at April 14, 2014 12:17 PM | Permalink