Daydreaming, which according to a study by the Harvard psychologists, happens 47% of the time when people are awake. And, this is often regarded as lazy and lack of concentration. However, as opposed to these ordinary thoughts, research found that daydreaming is actually an indicator of intelligence.

More efficient brain with better problem-solving skills

According to a recent study by the Georgia Institute of Technology, people who have efficient brain are more likely to daydreaming. They are said to have extra brain power to spend on random thoughts.

People with efficient brain are able to zone in and out of conversations or tasks, and can naturally tune back without overlooking any important points. They are smarter, as said.

A study published in the Psychological Science journal in 2012, found that daydreaming is the key to solving complex problems. The study showed that, by giving a break or some easy task to participants with difficult task on hand, daydreamers could improve their performance in solving the difficult task by 40%.

And, this is said to be associated with a higher level of mind wandering in those participants. They might unconsciously process thoughts while concentrating on another task, thus enhancing their problem-solving skills.

Improve working memory, a marker of intelligence

Apart from improving problem-solving skills, a separate study, also published in Psychological Science, correlates mind wandering to high degrees of working memory. The researchers found that the brain is better at retaining and recalling information in the face of distractions when the person’s mind is wandering around.

In the study, participants were given simple task by just pressing a button in response to a letter appearing on a screen, and later be tested on their ability to remember a series of letters mix with a set of easy math questions. Surprisingly, it was found that participants who daydreamed more frequently were better at remembering the series of letters as compared to those who daydreamed less frequently.

Researcher supposed that, in the circumstances when easy task is given, people who have additional working memory resources are more likely to mind wandering. The extra working memory resources make them to think about things other than what they are doing. Their brains have too much extra capacity to just let them concentrate on their task at hand.

Researchers believe that the mental processes underlying daydreaming might be similar to those of the brains’ working memory system. Working memory had been previously correlated with intelligence. Hence, it may not be wrong to say that people who are daydreaming are smarter, because they have better working memory than all the other ordinary people whose mind seldom wandering.

Extra brain network activation during daydreaming

The fMRI brain scans from UBC Mind Wandering Study. Photo credit: Kalina Christoff/Science Daily
The fMRI brain scans from UBC Mind Wandering Study. Photo credit: Kalina Christoff/Science Daily

In 2009, a study by University of British Columbia, reported an increase in activation of brain regions associated with complex problem-solving during mind wandering. In the study, it was found that the brains are being much more active during daydreaming as compared to when focusing on routine tasks.

Researchers found that during daydreaming, one can unconsciously turn his or her attention from the immediate tasks to sort through the important problems that he or she might have come across in daily lives. The brain’s “default network”, namely the medial prefrontal cortex, the posterior cingulate cortex and the temporoparietal junction, which associated with easy, routine mental activity is to be activated during daydreaming. On the other hand, the brain’s “executive network”, namely the lateral prefrontal cortex and the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, which associated with high-level, complex problem-solving is activated during daydreaming as well.

"This is a surprising finding, that these two brain networks are activated in parallel," says Professor Kalina Christoff, lead author of the study. "Until now, scientists have thought they operated on an either-or basis – when one was activated, the other was thought to be dormant." More networks were activated when mind is wandering.

In 2015, another study linking wandering mind and cognitive function had been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In the study, an activation of a gigantic default network involving many parts of the brain during mind wandering has been reported.

Participants who received an external stimulus to daydream had shown to have slight improve in task performance. Thus, it is believed that “the external stimulation actually enhanced the subjects' cognitive capacity”, as stated by Professor Moshe Bar, part of the University's Gonda (Goldschmied) Multidisciplinary Brain Research Centre.

Taken together, daydreaming is no longer as bad as what we had thought previously. It says that we have more efficient brain capacity, better problem-solving skills and working memory. And, all these is due to extra brain network activation which occurring during daydreaming. MIMS

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