Beginning in childhood, our developing imagination allows us to transport ourselves to different places and scenarios. While the ways we use our imaginations change throughout our lives, daydreaming is overwhelmingly common throughout adulthood. We often let our minds wander while reading a book, sitting in a meeting, or driving home. Researchers have recently begun to examine the benefits and potential consequences of daydreaming in our daily lives.
Recent research has found that the content of our daydreams often includes information that is important in our day-to-day lives, and can allow people to simulate social experiences and emotions. Is it possible that our daydreams can change our emotions and feelings towards others? How is this influenced by the quality of our relationships with others?
A recent study published in the journal Consciousness and Cognition examines the link between our daydreams, emotions, and relationships with others. Specifically, the researchers, “sought out to explore whether social daydreams would be associated with increased social feelings by choosing to focus on feelings of love and connection,” the authors said in the article.
This study used a technique called experience sampling, sending text messages to participants randomly throughout the day. Whenever the participants received a text message, they were asked to record their daydreams that were happening immediately before.
Participants who reported a lower mood before daydreaming (i.e. less happiness, love, and connection) actually showed an improved mood after daydreaming. Results showed that social, but not non-social, daydreams were linked to increased feelings of love, happiness, and connection with their partner. This supports the idea that social daydreaming helps simulate social interactions and emotions.
In addition, the vast majority of daydreams included the participants’ significant others, and the change in participants’ mood through daydreaming was influenced by their relationship quality. Participants’ mood increased only when the daydreamer and their significant other had a high quality relationship. The authors concluded that this may be because, “imagining close others may serve the current emotional needs of daydreamers by increasing positive feelings towards themselves and others.”
The authors suggested that ultimately, we may use daydreams to act as a temporary substitute for social interactions during times when we cannot interact with others whom we care about. For example, we may have a tendency to daydream when we are homesick or particularly lonely. These daydreams appear to act as a way to simulate a real social experience, and can help people improve their mood.