S u m m a r y :
Daydreaming is a sign of intelligence, says a new study published in the journal Neuropsychologia.
Good News For the Dreamers
All you dreamers out there, rejoice! Daydreaming during work meetings is not all that bad—instead, it comes as a perk to being smart and creative, suggests a new research conducted by a team from the Georgia Institute of Technology. A wandering mind might be viewed as quite the contrary, though; it is usually associated with an inability to stay focused and task-oriented, thus leading to a lack of efficiency. However, the new paper shows a very different side to this trait.
“People tend to think of mind wandering as something that is bad. You try to pay attention and you can’t,” says co-author Eric Schumacher. “Our data are consistent with the idea that this isn’t always true. Some people have more efficient brains.”
Brain Patterns Linked With Cognitive Abilities
Led by Christine Godwin, the researchers took measurements of brain patterns of over 100 people who were requested to focus on an immobile fixation point for 5 minutes. The aim behind this activity was to identify the parts of the brain that worked in synchrony. Godwin explains that correlated brain areas point at which regions work together when we are in an awake and resting state. The observations made by the team suggest that these brain patterns are associated with different cognitive abilities.
Measuring Intellectual and Creative Abilities
Building up from there—after determining how the brain functions at rest—the scientists compared the findings with tests quantifying the intellectual and creative abilities of the participants. The participants also responded to a questionnaire about how often their mind would wander during their daily activities, and the results show that those reporting more frequent daydreaming got higher scores in the intellectual and creative tests. Furthermore, their MRI brain measurements show that their brain systems are more efficient.
Greater Efficiency & Capacity of Daydreaming Brains
Daydreaming might be the result of a high brain capacity: higher efficiency accommodates for more thinking capacity, thus allowing the brain to wander while executing easy tasks.
“People with efficient brains may have too much brain capacity to stop their minds from wandering,” explains Eric Schumacher.
A sign of an efficient brain would be the ability to conveniently zone out of tasks and conversations to eventually get back in without having missed important points, as though nothing has happened.
“Our findings remind me of the absent-minded professor—someone who’s brilliant, but off in his or her own world, sometimes oblivious to their own surroundings,” says Schumacher. “Or school children who are too intellectually advanced for their classes. While it may take five minutes for their friends to learn something new, they figure it out in a minute, then check out and start daydreaming.”
The Advantages vs The Harms
This study is hoped to pave the way to further research to find the other side of the coin, that is, when mind wandering is harmful.
“There are important individual differences to consider as well, such as a person’s motivation or intent to stay focused on a particular task,” explains Godwin.