Have you ever been caught daydreaming? If so, you may be pleased to know that daydreaming could be a sign of high intelligence. Recent studies are suggesting that those whose minds have a tendency to wander might actually be smarter and more creative than their counterparts who don’t daydream.
We usually associate daydreaming with less focus. And, we consider the daydreameras being unable to be fully productive and involved in the task at hand. When they allow their mind to wander unrestrained, they seem spaced-out, —off in their own little world.
Believe it or not, we all do it. In fact, one study found that their subjects’ minds wandered for nearly half their working day. The downside to that is that their minds seemed to constantly drift towards negative scenarios, causing them to be unhappy. Now, if we could only get a handle on that aspect and turn it around. There may be enormous potential to tap into.
Could Daydreaming Become a Skill?
Is it possible that the skill of positive daydreaming could be a tremendous advantage?
Two researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta headed up studies that indicate that the opposite of what we think about daydreamers holds true. Dr. Eric Schumacher and doctoral student, Christine Godwin found that, contrary to popular belief, daydreamers have very active brains. People who daydream a lot could even be more intelligent and creative than the average person. Dr. Schumacher explained,
“People with efficient brains may have too much brain capacity to stop their minds from wandering.”
The findings from this study were recently published in the journal Neuropsychologia.
Daydreaming and the Default Mode Network
Did you know that your brain has a default mode network? (Computers are such copy-cats, aren’t they?) Our default mode network or DMN is visibly active when our brain is at rest. And, this is the mode linked to daydreaming.
Our ever-changing environment requires us to constantly adjust and adapt our behavior throughout the day. It’s a lot more complicated than we think. We flit from conversations to computations, adjusting seamlessly to various tasks. But, during many of those hours, we are in default mode network. We call it “autopilot”. Driving a car, most of us are on autopilot. This allows us to respond effectively to our surroundings without activating higher brain centers.
On autopilot, we can deal efficiently with our environment without having to activate higher centers in the brain. For example, we can complete all the tasks involved in driving in a sort of trancelike state of mind without missing a beat. Although this involves gear changing, braking enough but not too much, stopping at stop lights, signaling correctly, watching for pedestrians, etc. can do it all simultaneously, as easily as breathing.
The DMN is activated when a person is not particularly focused on anything, when thinking about one’s self, others, the past, or the future, and it has been implicated in daydreaming and mind wandering. In fact, it’s triggered by default. But, when performing tasks that require focused attention, the DMN is suppressed.
Most notably, abnormal activity in the DMN is linked with Alzheimer’s disease, ADHD, and schizophrenia. Its role in healthy cognition has, as of yet, not been fully comprehended.
Dr. Schumacher’s team wanted to find out if the specific dynamics of the default mode network (DMN) of the daydreamers’ brains (while their minds were wandering) and the DMN’s interaction with other parts of the brain correlated with heightened cognitive abilities. In other words, they wanted to discover if there was a link between the activity of the brain during daydreaming and the activity of the brain of a highly intelligent person.
For this purpose, 112 participants were selected. They underwent MRI scans and tests that targeted cognitive behavior. The subjects were required to focus on a fixed point for 5 minutes during the scan while their DMN activity was monitored. Researchers also measured DMN activity in relation with other brain regions during a restive state.
As it turns out, the brain’s daydream network is more active than we had previously thought. Says Godwin,
“The correlated brain regions gave us insight about which areas of the brain work together during an awake, resting state. This was important, because research has suggested that these same brain patterns measured during these states are related to different cognitive abilities.”
Daydreamers Showed Heightened Learning and Memory
The results from the MRI scans were coupled with data from activities aimed to measure the subjects’ intellectual skills and creativity. Additionally, the subjects were asked to fill out a questionnaire on the subject of daydreaming.
The findings showed that participants who admitted to spending a lot of time daydreaming were able to perform better in the cognitive tasks. And, their MRI scans also showed heightened activity in the learning and memory parts of the brain.
Not only did the scans confirm that DMN activity was tied to mind wandering, but daydreaming was also associated with the frontoparietal control network. This is the part of the brain that deals with cognitive control, the ability to adapt, as well as working memory.
Efficient brains and Daydreaming
According to Dr. Schumacher, daydreaming may not be a bad thing, after all. Maybe we should give the daydreamer a little more respect.
“People tend to think of mind wandering as something that is bad. 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,” says Schumacher, “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 Dr. 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.”