Next time you get caught spacing out during a work presentation, you can tell your boss that daydreaming makes you a more intelligent, more creative employee. That's according to a new study, published in Neuropsychologia.
"People with efficient brains may have too much brain capacity to stop their minds from wandering," Eric Schumacher, an associate professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology, explained in a statement.
This makes a nice change from older studies that have associated frequent mind wandering with lower scores on memory tests, high school exams, and reading comprehension.
Using MRI scans, Schumacher and colleagues monitored the brain activity of over 100 volunteers who had been told to concentrate on a stationary point for five minutes. From this, they were able to establish which areas of the brain work together when the body is in an awake resting state.
Next, participants were asked to complete tests measuring their intellectual and creative abilities, as well as a questionnaire on their tendency to daydream in day-to-day life.
Comparing the results, the scientists found that those who scored higher on the ability tests daydreamed more than their less intellectual, less creative peers. These results were backed up by the MRI scans, which revealed that those whose minds wandered more frequently had more efficient brain systems.
“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,” said 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.”
Essentially, if your brain is more efficient, it is more likely to wander during mundane or routine tasks. This is because a higher brain efficiency gives you more room to think.
Apparently, there's an easy way to tell whether you have an efficient brain or not. If you find it easy to tune in and out of conversations or tasks and resume without missing anything important, congratulations. You have one.
So far, this association is correlational, not cause and effect, and the scientists admit the link between daydreaming and brain efficiency (and thus intelligence and creativity) could be down to an as yet unknown third variable. Still, the findings make good ammunition for anyone who's always been told they have their head in the clouds.
"People tend to think of mind wandering as something that is bad. You try to pay attention and you can't," said Schumacher.
"Our data are consistent with the idea that this isn't always true. Some people have more efficient brains."