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This Study Offers Good News for Daydreamers

Topics: Data & Research
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Does your mind wander during the workday? It’s probably not because you’re an undisciplined thinker or a lazy worker. In fact, a new study from the Georgia Institute of Technology suggests that it might be because you’re smart and creative.

Researchers measured the brain patterns of 100 study participants in an MRI machine. Subjects were asked to focus on a fixed point for five minutes, while the MRI measured which parts of the brain were working during the test. The team then compared the MRI results to separate tests measuring the subjects’ intelligence and creativity and questionnaires about their daydreaming habits.

The results? Self-described daydreamers scored higher on the intelligence and creativity tests and showed more efficient brain patterns according to the MRI.

“People with efficient brains may have too much brain capacity to stop their minds from wandering,” study co-author Eric Schumacher, an associate psychology professor at Georgia Tech, tells Science Daily.

“People tend to think of mind wandering as something that is bad,” he adds. “You try to pay attention and you can’t. Our data are consistent with the idea that this isn’t always true. Some people have more efficient brains.”

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Higher-efficiency brains offer more capacity to think, says Schumacher. Daydreamers with higher-efficiency brains tend to space out during routine tasks, only to snap back into action when the important stuff starts happening.

“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,” says 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.”

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The Benefits of Daydreaming

The researchers note that more study is required to determine when daydreaming is most productive. But, the general benefits are well-known.

One study showed that daydreaming corresponded with better working memory. Another showed that daydreamers came up with more creative solutions to problems.

None of this is a surprise to creative types, of course, who often maintain that a wandering mind is one that’s likely to find new ideas.

“Daydreaming can be the mind’s incubator,” writes Will Willimon at Time. “When we’re hyperfocused, the possibility of the mind reaching into its reservoir and making an ‘Aha!’ diminishes. In daydreaming there’s no controlling censor to whisper, ‘That’s ridiculous’ or ‘Completely impractical.’”

Think of how many inventions and innovations the world would have lost out on, if that censor were always in charge.

Tell Us What You Think

Has daydreaming helped or hurt your career, in your opinion? We want to hear from you. Share your thoughts in the comments or come talk to us on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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