Unable to stay focused? Frequently going away with the fairies? It may be because you have so much brain capacity that it needs to find ways to keep itself occupied, according to new research.
A team of psychologists has found a positive correlation between a person’s tendency to daydream and their levels of intelligence and creativity.
“People tend to think of mind wandering as something that is bad. You try to pay attention and you can’t,” said one of the team, Eric Schumacher from Georgia Institute of Technology.
“Our data are consistent with the idea that this isn’t always true. Some people have more efficient brains.”
The researchers examined the brain patterns of 112 study participants as they lay in an fMRI machine not doing anything in particular and just staring at a fixed point for five minutes.
This is known as a resting state scan, and the team used this data to figure out which parts of the participants’ brains worked together in unison in what’s called the default mode network.
These participants also completed a questionnaire about daydreaming, and, once the researchers figured out how their brains worked, tests of executive function, fluid intelligence and creativity.
There were several correlations. Those participants who self-reported higher rates of daydreaming had a higher rate of default mode network connectivity in the brain, as well as a higher rate of control between the default mode network and the frontoparietal control network of the brain.
Those participants also performed better on the fluid intelligence and creativity tests than the participants who weren’t daydreamers.
The perils of daydreaming have been well documented. Previous research has found that a wandering mind can have a detrimental effect on tasks such as reading comprehension and academic tests, and it can reduce the brain’s cortical analysis of external events.
On the other hand, more recent research suggests that a wandering mind can be a good thing. It could help facilitate creative problem solving, for instance. It can also be beneficial towards future planning.
So how do you know if you’re a smart daydreamer? If your mind wanders and you can connect the dots of what you’ve missed when you come back down to Earth, Schumacher said.
“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,” he explained.
“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.”
While it’s important to note that the sample size in this study was fairly small, the team believes that this finding opens up the potential for further research into the wandering mind, to try and figure out when it’s a problem, and when it’s a boon.
The research has been published in the journal Neuropsychologia.