Daydreaming chidren may be learning more slowly, say researchers

Experts find that children ‘mind wandering’ 25% of the time and could not avoid tendency

Daydreaming is bad for you, particularly children, according to a new study. Findings by Queen’s University Belfast psychologists found it was “impossible for children to avoid daydreaming or ‘mind wandering’ in the classroom but it could be seriously affecting their ability to learn.”

Researchers played a story to 97 children aged between ages six and 11 and asked them a question every two minutes to check if they were paying attention. They discovered that the children were “mind wandering” 25 per cent of the time and that they couldn’t help it.

It also found that “the frequency of mind wandering didn’t change with age but that it had a detrimental impact on learning, as children who mind wandered the least remembered less about the story than those who mind wandered more frequently”.

‘Paying attention’

Dr Agnieszka Graham, lecturer in Applied Developmental Psychology at Queen’s university, led the research study. She said that “in school, often children can get in trouble for mind wandering as it is sometimes viewed as a sign of disrespect or misbehaviour if they are not paying attention”.


However, their research found that “children, like adults, are unable to fully concentrate all the time. It’s likely that their minds will wander for a substantial proportion of a typical school day”.

Further exploration of “the causes and consequences of mind wandering in these early years at school could provide a solid foundation for developing interventions to help children detect when their minds strayed from the task at hand and refocus their attention”,she said.

“The more we can learn about mind wandering in the classroom, the better we can design our teaching strategies and educational spaces to optimise learning and engagement.”

The study findings are published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times