By Kawser Abdulahi
Ever found yourself drifting into dreamland during lectures or trying to focus but just can’t? Well, it may just mean that your mind is more efficient than others.
A recent study by scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology (GIT) shows that there is a link between daydreaming and higher levels of intelligence and creativity, debunking the assumption that all daydreamers suffer from low attention spans. So whenever you’re spacing out in your lectures next, don’t be too hard on yourself- it’s just your inner genius showing.
Researchers at GIT measured the brain patterns of more than 100 participants in a fMRI scanner. Participants were instructed to focus on a stationary fixation point for five minutes. They also measured creativity, executive function and fluid intelligence via several tests conducted in the fMRI scanner. The GIT team used this data to identify which parts of the brain worked in unison during resting and wake states. Participants were then asked to complete a Mind Wandering Questionnaire to measure daydreaming.
The study found the default mode network (DMN), a region that is most active when people are not engaged with their surroundings, at rest and when doing a self-involved task, it showed increased connectivity with the frontoparietal control network (FPCN), the region turned on by active tasks. This connectivity between the DMN and FPCN suggests that active thought processing occurs even in a passive state.
It also discovered that participants who reported daydreaming scored higher more frequently on their intellectual and creative abilities and had more efficient brain systems based on MRI scan measurements.
People tend to view daydreaming as a ‘bad’ habit and often characterise being lost in your thoughts as a negative trait, especially in learning environments. However, the study indicates that daydreamers have more efficient brains. This higher efficiency means there’s a larger capacity for thought, resulting in the brain wandering when performing easy tasks.
Professor Eric Schumacher, GIT School of Psychology and co-author of the study, told Science Daily “People with efficient brains may have too much brain capacity to stop their minds from wandering.”
“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,” said 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.”
But this doesn’t mean that all daydreamers are hidden geniuses. Individual differences also have to be considered, as well as personal motivation to stay focused on a specific task. More research is therefore required to better understand when daydreaming is harmful and when it’s not. For the time being, to all my fellow daydreamers, next time you’re trying to pay attention but can’t, just remember, you’re a genius.