Daydream believer

Psychologist Jerome Singer explored the value of imagination and fantasy.

yale university

yale university

Jerome Singer and his wife Dorothy were consultants to Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and other children’s television shows. View full image

When Jerome Singer was growing up in a crowded apartment in Brighton Beach, he escaped the daily crush of people by swimming and playing outside. He would pass the time with elaborate fantasies: about an ancient Roman visitor who required instruction in modern technology, a coterie of opera performances, or an entire invented baseball team. Singer, who died on December 14 at age 95, grew up to be a Yale professor who studied the psychology of imagination and fantasy, transforming the way we think about, and value, play.

Singer was born in 1924 to Yetta and Abraham Singer. His father was a pattern cutter. He graduated from the City College of New York at age 19 and then joined the US Army, working in counterintelligence in World War II. After his discharge in 1946, he studied clinical psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, earning his doctorate in 1951. He joined the Yale faculty in 1972 and served as a professor for more than 40 years, retiring as professor of psychology.

Singer worked closely with his wife, Dorothy Gottlieb Singer, whom he met while browsing for Bach albums in a record store; she would earn her doctorate at Columbia. They married in 1949 and later codirected the Yale Family Television Research and Consultation Center, which worked with shows such as Sesame Street, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, and Barney and Friends. “Jerry had a gift for translating research into practical ways to work with children,” says Fred Volkmar, the Irving B. Harris Professor in the Child Study Center at Yale.

Singer believed that people tend to underestimate the importance of imagination and play. In the ’60s and ’70s, when daydreaming was considered pathological, Singer showed that it was not only normal, but also healthy. “Our capacity to venture into ‘mights,’ ‘woulds,’ ‘coulds,’ and to reshape the seeming inevitability of our futures,” Singer wrote, “is one of the special miracles with which we are endowed.” 

The comment period has expired.