- 1: a pleasant dreamlike fantasy indulged in while awake; idle reverie
- 2: a pleasant scheme or wish that is unlikely to be fulfilled; pipe dream
Daydreaming is a short-term detachment from one's immediate surroundings, during which a person's contact with reality is blurred and partially substituted by a visionary fantasy, especially one of happy, pleasant thoughts, hopes or ambitions, imagined as coming to pass, and experienced while awake.
There are many types of daydreams, and there is no consistent definition amongst psychologists, however the characteristic that is common to all forms of daydreaming meets the criteria for mild dissociation.
Negative aspects of daydreaming were stressed after human work became dictated by the motion of the tool. As craft production was largely replaced by assembly line that did not allow for any creativity, no place was left for positive aspects of daydreaming. It not only became associated with laziness, but also with danger.
For example, in the late 19th century, Toni Nelson argued that some daydreams with grandiose fantasies are self-gratifying attempts at "wish fulfillment". Still in the 1950s, some educational psychologists warned parents not to let their children daydream, for fear that the children may be sucked into "neurosis and even psychosis".
Freudian psychology interpreted daydreaming as expression of the repressed instincts similarly to those revealing themselves in nighttime dreams. Like nighttime dreams, daydreams also are an example of wish-fulfilment, based on infantile experiences and allowed to surface because of relaxed censorship. He pointed out that in contrast to nighttime dreams, which are often confusing and incoherent, there seems to be a process of "secondary revision" in fantasies that makes them more lucid, like daydreaming. The state of daydreaming is a kind of liminal state between waking (with the ability to think rationally and logically) and sleeping. They stand in much the same relation to the childhood memories from which they are derived as do some of the Baroque palaces of Rome to the ancient ruins whose pavements and columns have provided the material for the more recent structures.
In the late 1960s, cognitive psychologists Jerome L. Singer of Yale University and John S. Antrobus of the City College of New York, created a daydream questionnaire. The questionnaire, called the Imaginal Processes Inventory (IPI), has been used to investigate daydreams. Psychologists Leonard Giambra and George Huba used the IPI and found that daydreamers' imaginary images vary in three ways: how vivid or enjoyable the daydreams are, how many guilt- or fear-filled daydreams they have, and how "deeply" into the daydream people go.
Humanistic psychology on other hand, found numerous examples of people in creative or artistic careers, such as composers, novelists and filmmakers, developing new ideas through daydreaming. Similarly, research scientists and mathematicians have developed new ideas by daydreaming about their subject areas.
Eric Klinger's research in the 1980s showed that most daydreams are about ordinary, everyday events and help to remind us of mundane tasks. Klinger's research also showed that over 75% of workers in "boring jobs", such as lifeguards and truck drivers, use vivid daydreams to "ease the boredom" of their routine tasks. Klinger found that less than 5% of the workers' daydreams involved explicitly sexual thoughts and that violent daydreams were also uncommon.
Israeli high school students who scored high on the Daydreaming Scale of the IPI had more empathy than students who scored low. Some psychologists, such as Los Angeles' Joseph E. Shorr, use the mental imagery created during their clients' daydreaming to help gain insight into their mental state and make diagnoses.
Other recent research has also shown that daydreaming, much like nighttime dreaming, is a time when the brain consolidates learning. Daydreaming may also help people to sort through problems and achieve success. Research with fMRI shows that brain areas associated with complex problem solving become activated during daydreaming episodes.
Research by Harvard psychologist Deirdre Barrett has found that people who experience vivid dream-like mental images reserve the word for these, whereas many other people when they talk about "daydreaming" refer to milder imagery, realistic future planning, review of past memories, or just "spacing out".