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Ever get in trouble for daydreaming in class or during a meeting at work? Try telling your teacher or boss this: Daydreaming may be a sign of intelligence and creativity, a new study finds.
In the study, a team of researchers examined how the tendency to let the mind wanderin daily life might be linked to a person’s cognitive abilities. Although daydreamers sometimes get a bad rap for being distracted or inattentive, the findings suggest that people who regularly daydream have a higher intellectual and creative ability than those who don’t regularly zone out.
“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, or schoolchildren who are too intellectually advanced for their classes,” study co-author Eric Schumacher, an associate psychology professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology, said in a statement. “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.”
In the study, the researchers measured the brain activity of more than 100 participants who were asked to focus on a single point in front of them for 5 minutes while lying in an MRI machine. The test revealed which areas of the brain worked together during an “awake resting state” — in other words, a daydreaming state.
Although some regions of the brain work independently, other regions must cooperate with one another to accomplish a task. One suchnetwork of interacting brain regions iscalled the “default mode network,” and itis active when a person is daydreaming.
Next, the participants were asked to take a test that measured their intellectual and creative ability, as well as answer a questionnaire about how much their mind wandered in daily life, according to the study.
When the researchers compared the results, they found that the participants who reported more frequent daydreaming scored higher on intellectual and creative ability and had “more efficient” brain systems as measured by the MRI, compared with those who said they daydreamed less often and had “less efficient” brains.
A more efficient brain means more capacity to think, which may lead the brain to wander while performing easy tasks, the researchers said. One telltale sign of an efficient brain is the ability to zone in and out of conversations without missing a beat.
“People tend to think of mind wandering as something that is bad. You try to pay attention, and you can’t,” Schumacher said. “Our data are consistent with the idea that this isn’t always true. Some people have more efficient brains.”
However, there are other factors to consider, such as a person’s motivation or intent to stay focused on a particular task. The researchers said more research is needed to further understand when daydreaming is harmful versus helpful.
The study was published yesterday (Oct. 24) in the journal Neuropsychologia.
Originally published on Live Science.