Quiet introspection is critical for learning from past experiences, allowing us to understand and manage ourselves in the social world. Some researchers suggest that mindful introspection should even become part of the classroom.
Psychological scientist Mary Helen Immordino-Yang and her colleagues recently surveyed existing scientific literature to determine what it means exactly when a brain is ‘at rest.’
They believe this type of research can yield important insights into the importance of reflection and quiet time for learning.
In recent years, scientists have explored the concept of rest by studying the so-called ‘default mode’ brain network, a network that is noticeably active when a person is resting and focused inward.
Results from these studies reveal that personal differences in brain activity during rest are tied to each person’s socio-emotional functioning, such as self-awareness and moral judgment, as well as various aspects of learning and memory.
“We focus on the outside world in education and don’t look much at inwardly focused reflective skills and attentions, but inward focus impacts the way we build memories, make meaning and transfer that learning into new contexts,” says Immordino-Yang, a professor of education, psychology and neuroscience at the University of Southern California.
“What are we doing in schools to support kids turning inward?”
Although outward attention is necessary for listening in the classroom and carrying out tasks, the reflection that accompanies mind wandering is equally important, nurturing healthy development and long-term learning.
“Balance is needed between outward and inward attention, since time spent mind wandering, reflecting and imagining may also improve the quality of outward attention that kids can sustain,” says Immordino-Yang.
Research suggests that when children are given the time and skills necessary for reflecting, they often become more motivated, less anxious, perform better on tests, and plan more effectively for the future.
And mindful reflection is not just important in an academic context — it’s also needed to make sense of the world around us. Inward focus is an important contributor to moral thinking and reasoning and is associated with overall socio-emotional well-being.
Immordino-Yang and her colleagues note that the high attention demands of fast-paced urban and digital environments may be keeping young people from looking inward, and that this could have negative effects on their psychological development. This is especially true in an age when social media seems to be a continuous presence in teens’ everyday lives.
“Consistently imposing overly high-attention demands on children, either in school, through entertainment, or through living conditions, may rob them of opportunities to advance from thinking about what happened or how to do this to constructing knowledge about what this means for the world and for the way I live my life, ” says Immordino-Yang.
The article is published in the July issue of Perspectives on Psychological Science.