Georgia Tech psychology researcher Eric Schumacher's new study suggests that people who are able to daydream during normal tasks aren't absent minded, nor aloof, as they may come off. "People tend to think of mind wandering as something that is bad. You try to pay attention and you can't. Our data is consistent with the idea that this isn't always true. Some people have more efficient brains," Schumacher said in an article posted on the university's website October 24.
The study, "Functional connectivity within and between intrinsic brain networks correlates with trait mind wandering," is being published with the journal Neuropsychologia. Research subjects sat in an MRI machine and stared at a fixed point for five minutes, providing data on how "correlated brain regions… work together during an awake, resting state," Schumacher explains.
Next, the researchers cross-referenced their data with tests measuring the participants' intellectual and creative skills. People who self-reported daydreaming more had more efficient brains, according to the MRI data.
"The findings remind my of the absent-minded professor — someone who's brilliant, but off in his or her own world, sometimes oblivious to their own surroundings," the academic said, "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."
Daydreaming allows people to explore different ideas, imagine how situations might play out and even get a better sense of what their future selves will be like — all of which are factors contributing to success — Scott Kaufman, Ph.D., wrote in a 2014 Psychology Today article.
Empirical research published in 2012 backed up some of the anecdotal claims tying mental drifting with intelligence. "Data suggest that engaging in simple external tasks that allow the mind to wander may facilitate creative problem solving," according that University of California-Santa Barbara study.