My son has bipolar disorder and is on the autism spectrum. It’s a difficult duo for him, but it comes with some perks—like a remarkable imagination. He can watch a movie once and then draw incredibly detailed pictures of the main characters. He can glance at a comic book briefly, and then tell you every aspect of the superhero’s appearance on page 11.
Yes, it sounds more like “photographic memory” than “imagination.” But Scott Barry Kaufman, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, says that imagination, fundamentally, “is the mental representation of things that are not immediately present to your senses.” It’s not just stuff we “make up” in our heads. It’s also the ability to recall what we’ve seen, by picturing it in our brains. And some—like my son—are better at it than others.
But can imagination be measured and quantified? That’s what scientists with the Imagination Institute, led by Kaufman and headquartered at Penn, are trying to figure out. The Institute, funded by the John Templeton Foundation, seeks to come up with an “imagination quotient” and, according to its stated mission, to make progress “on the measurement, growth, and improvement of imagination across all sectors of society.”
A recent HuffPost article describes the project in greater detail, and features an interview with one of the Templeton grantees, Jonathan Schooler of the University of California, Santa Barbara. Schooler and UCSB postdoctoral researcher Claire Zedelius are studying how daydreaming influences creativity, particularly creative writing—and if “guided daydreaming” can result in more inspired writing.
“A good 50% of my day is probably spent in some kind of reverie,” Schooler said.
The interview even addresses autism (as it may have affected Einstein), and how “deprivation-based curiosity” may have stirred his thinking and discoveries.
Schooler believes that daydreaming on the job makes for more productive workers.
“We are hopeful that encouraging people to take time out of their day to daydream about interesting or bizarre thoughts may help to prime the creative well.”
So, next time you’re at work, gazing off into nowhere or thinking about your fantasy football lineup, just tell your boss that you’re engaging in “guided daydreaming,” and that it’ll make you a better worker.