Daydreaming Styles and Brain Functional Connectivity

Posted on Thursday, November 29th, 2018 by Sangeetha Shivaji under .

Recent graduate Dahlia Alharoon – who earned a degree in psychology with a minor in Spanish – used fMRI to investigate the ways different functional networks in the brain relate to different styles of daydreaming. She presented her undergraduate research project “Daydreaming Styles and Brain Functional Connectivity” at the 2018 Carolyn & Norwood Thomas Undergraduate Research and Creativity Expo, where she received an honorable mention. She conducted the research with Professor Paul Silvia and psychology graduate student Alex Christensen.

This interview was conducted in July 2018. 


Describe your project.

My research explored functional brain connectivity – the simultaneous activation of different structures of the brain so that the brain can complete specific tasks – in relation to different daydreaming styles.

By comparing the brains of subjects with different daydreaming styles (using resting-state fMRI data), we were able to see what patterns of brain activity are associated with different types of daydreamers.

What were your major findings?

The widely used SIPI (Short Imaginal Process Inventory) scale classifies daydreaming into three subsets: positive-constructive daydreaming (which includes playful fantasies and problem solving), guilt and fear of failure daydreaming, and poor attentional control daydreaming. A person can experience all of these daydreaming patterns, but people tend to gravitate towards one type.

In our study, positive-constructive daydreamers exhibited more prefrontal and default mode network connectivity. This supports previous findings that default mode network activity is associated with goal-directed thinking.

We also observed more amygdala activation in guilt and fear of failure daydreamers. This suggests more emotional qualities in their daydreams.

Finally, poor attentional control daydreamers exhibited more prefrontal cortex and subcortical and cerebellum activity. This is similar to what is seen in the brains of individuals with ADHD.

What is the impact of your project?

Our findings supports existing literature on the interaction of different brain networks during internal experiences. Our project also contributes to recent research on different types of daydreaming and mind wandering intentionality.

I presented on the research for the Society of Southeastern Social Psychologists in November 2017 and for the Southeastern Psychological Association in March 2018.

Did you use unique or interesting methods, equipment, or tools?

I used functional magnetic resonance imaging and connectome-based predictive modeling (CPM), which is a newly developed analysis that identifies functional brain connections that are related to a behavioral variable of interest It’s typically used to predict behavior in participants.

What are some difficulties you ran into doing your project? What came the easiest?

Helping run the experiment and collecting data with the fMRI at the Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology was the easiest and the most fun part!

The learning process that came with analyzing brain data was a lot more complicated than I thought it would be. It involved a lot of computer software and coding that I had not been previously exposed to. Treating each day in the lab as a learning opportunity really helped my progression and mastery in the research.

That being said, the results of the project did change with different analyses. Different results can lead to different interpretations and implications. This has taught me to remain critical in the analysis of my research but to also be wary of how existing publications derived their results. Science can share different perspectives depending on how you analyze your findings.

How do you think participating in undergraduate research has been beneficial to you?

This is very similar to if not exactly what I will be doing in graduate school. Skills that I have learned in my undergraduate research such as analyzing data, literature review, statistics, critical thinking, and public speaking will all prepare me for my future educational and professional career.

What was the most surprising thing about this experience?

How supportive faculty can be and their willingness to help students that show interest. I was never alone in the process and always felt encouraged with whatever I was doing.

What advice would you offer incoming students?

Ask for opportunities, and you will receive them! Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself. Make sure to make a 4-year plan. It helps more than you think it would. Get involved in a lab even if you are not absolutely interested in it. It’s not always about the research or ongoing projects, but professional skills that you will develop when working in one.

Interview by Hope Voorhees. 


The URSCO blog helps UNCG’s undergraduate scholars share their work and impact with the world. Interested in sharing your work? Contact URSCO Director Lee Phillips at plphilli@uncg.edu or Office of Research and Engagement Media and Communication Manager Sangeetha Shivaji at s.shivaji@uncg.edu.


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