We’ve all been there – one moment you’re conscientiously being productive and then before you know it you’re lost in the narrative of a daydream.
Yet, for some, the issue of daydreaming can be much more problematic than fighting off the occasional daydream that fills your mind on a temporary basis.
This cognitive phenomenon is known as maladaptive daydreaming (MD) and it is a psychological concept first introduced by Eli Somer to describe an extensive fantasy activity that replaces human interaction and/or interferes with academic, interpersonal, or vocational functioning.
However, the question that many medical and psychological professionals are puzzled by is whether MD is truly a mental illness or a sensation of the creative mind.
According to Somer (2002), study subjects used extensive daydreaming techniques in order to cope with traumatic memories and/or uncomfortable surroundings. However, further research is needed to measure the validity of this theory.
Since MD is, in theory, a new concept to the evolution of psychological findings, more discussion and research is needed to clarify if MD should be treated as an illness or an extension of the creative mind.
First, it is important to understand the symptoms that are often experienced by those who claim to have MD. Such symptoms include being “addicted” to daydreaming in a way that causes an individual to lose hours or even days of their life at a time, daydreaming that stems from childhood, and daydreams that are often detailed and elaborate such as a movie playing in the mind.
Other symptoms can include daydreaming that branch from books, movies, music, and video games. Repetitive movements and/or talking, laughing, crying, or making facial expressions while daydreaming can also be related to MD.
So are these symptoms a result of an ill mind or a mind that is more developed than the general population?
According to modern psychology, daydreaming is a sign of a creative mind and a creative mind puts the brain to work. A study conducted by the University of Wisconsin and the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Science found that by experiencing simultaneous thoughts through daydreaming, the brain’s mental workspace could actually be strengthened. More specifically, the researchers stated:
“[the] wandering mind correlates with higher degrees of what is referred to as working memory. Cognitive scientists define this type of memory as the brain’s ability to retain and recall information in the face of distractions”.
So do people who claim to experience MD have a heightened imagination that keeps building upon itself; strengthening itself with every intense daydream that they experience? It’s a far-fetched claim but that doesn’t conclude that MD should be treated as an illness.
Some of the greatest discoveries and innovations of recent times were a result of imaginative minds.
Take, for example, Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity. It was Einstein who once said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”
Without Einstein’s combined knowledge and imagination we still may never have realized the importance of considering time and space together through his theory of relativity. Does this mean that Einstein experienced episodes of MD? No, I am definitely not jumping to that conclusion.
However, I am justifying the importance of imagination and creativity in all fields of study.
While MD remains to be excluded from being an medically recognized diagnosis, the need for critical discussion and thought is needed in the process of raising awareness to this cognitive phenomenon.