The Adolescent Daydreamer

The Adolescent Daydreamer: Experimental Investigations of Inner Experience from Late-Nineteenth Century Psychology to Twenty-First Century Cognitive Neuroscience

Felicity Callard

Stanley Hall, in his famous 1904 monograph on adolescence, argued that “inner absorption and reverie is one marked characteristic of this age of transition.” “The Adolescent Daydreamer” project investigated how the adolescent has been configured as a daydreamer through the scientific study of her mental states. It explored explore how psychologists, psychoanalysts, and cognitive neuroscientists have used experimental techniques in their attempts to define and acquire data about daydreaming. These investigations have contributed to consolidating different models of adolescence, most notably by establishing normative expectations vis-à-vis the developing human subject’s engagements with her internal mental world.

“The Adolescent Daydreamer” project focused on exemplary moments in the scientific investigation of daydreaming so as to:

  • Explore how accounts of adolescence engage with empirical research on daydreaming and related phenomena
  • Analyze how scientific techniques employed at different historical moments "dissect" daydreaming from allied phenomena/constructs (fantasy, mind-wandering, and inattention)
  • Examine how investigations of daydreaming contend with one oft-noted methodological difficulty—namely, that asking research subjects to monitor or reflect on episodes of daydreaming necessarily interferes with the phenomenon under investigation
  • Bring these historical investigations of daydreaming and adolescence to bear on current cognitive neuroscientific explorations of daydreaming/mind-wandering

The project focused on three scientific cultures in which daydreaming and adolescence have been intimately bound together:

  • Fin-de-siècle psychological and psychoanalytic research (Stanley Hall, Sigmund Freud, and William James)
  • Post-Second World War psychological research
  • Cognitive neuroscientific investigations of daydreams and mind-wandering using resting state fMRI