Colloquium to look at daydreaming as having a useful purpose

Stop daydreaming. That’s a common refrain many children hear growing up, but scientists now believe daydreaming may actually have a purpose. University of British Columbia Professor Kalina Christoff will discuss new evidence about what she calls spontaneous forms of thought at the next Developmental and Cognitive Processes Colloquium.

Christoff will present “Purposeful and Spontaneous Forms of Human Thought” at 3:30pm on Wednesday, Dec. 3 in Room S427, Ross Building., Keele campus, as part of the Developmental and Cognitive Processes Colloquium Series put on by York’s Department of Psychology.

A scientist in the Cognitive Neuroscience of Thought Laboratory in the Brain Research Centre at UBC, Christoff’s research focuses on the cognitive and neural bases of human thought, reasoning and problem solving. Recently, she has examined spontaneous thought patterns, such as memories occurring during mind wandering using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging.

Right: Kalina Christoff

Until now, human thought has often been equated with deliberate, purposeful mental processes that help people achieve their immediate goals, says Christoff. “This form of thought, known as goal-directed, has been strongly linked to the executive brain network, including the lateral prefrontal cortex, whose functional organization is hotly debated.”

In her talk, however, Christoff will present evidence that one of the possible ways the lateral prefrontal cortex may be organized is according to different levels of abstraction in working memory representations – an organization that is directly relevant to developmental and computational models of executive functions.

“In addition to goal-directed thought, however, humans often engage in a form of thought that can be viewed as spontaneous, including processes such as mind wandering and daydreaming,” says Christoff. “Such spontaneous forms of thought may at first appear to have no particular goal or purpose, but their prevalence in everyday life strongly suggests that they must serve some, if yet unknown, function.”

Christoff will present evidence that spontaneous thought is related to the functions of the brain’s default network, but that it also draws upon resources of the executive network. 

“Spontaneous forms of thought may produce a unique mental state that allows otherwise competing neural systems to work cooperatively in the service of goals that may extend beyond the current task,” she says.

For more information about spontaneous forms of thought, visit the Cognitive Neuroscience of Thought Laboratory Web site at UBC.