ATLANTA — Daydreamers aren’t slackers: they’re just smarter and more creative than everyone else, a new study finds.
Researchers at Georgia Tech thoroughly examined over 100 individuals, all of whom completed assessments measuring their cognitive ability and had their brain patterns measured by an MRI machine. The participants were asked to focus on a specific item for five minutes during the scan, while the authors sought to look for separate areas of the brain working together.
“The correlated brain regions gave us insight about which areas of the brain work together during an awake, resting state,” explains study co-author Christine Godwin, a psychology Ph.D. candidate at the university, in a news release.
On a separate questionnaire, participants were also asked to indicate the degree to which their minds wandered on a daily basis.
Ultimately, those who reported frequent daydreaming not only scored higher on measures indicating intellectual and creative aptitude, but had more efficient brains in general, according to the MRI test.
“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, an associate psychology professor. “Our data are consistent with the idea that this isn’t always true. Some people have more efficient brains.”
Brains with higher efficiency have an increased capacity for thought, Schumacher explains, leading them to wander during less engaging tasks.
An easy way to gauge if you have a highly-efficient brain is by looking at your ability to exit and reenter tasks and conversations without missing a beat.
“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,” Schumacher comments. “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.”
Just because staring into space is associated with enhanced cognitive ability doesn’t mean that it’s always beneficial, however, the researchers note.
“There are important individual differences to consider as well, such as a person’s motivation or intent to stay focused on a particular task,” concludes Christine Godwin, the study’s other co-author, on whether a given fit of daydreaming would be considered productive.
The full study was published in the August edition of the journal Neuropsychologia.