The Surprising Thing Daydreaming Says About Your Brain

Can’t stay 100 percent focused on the task? You may just be too darn smart.

Can’t stay 100 percent focused on the task? You may just be too darn smart.

Ever find yourself sitting at work and realize you’ve totally zoned out for a good five or ten minutes? Or maybe you look up after reading several pages of a book and realize you haven’t absorbed a thing (but you have figured out the perfect birthday gift for your mom)?

While your grade-school teacher might have scolded you to focus, scientists are now finding that daydreaming is a measurable sign of creativity and intelligence. It turns out your brain may just have too much capacity to stick to one thing at a time.

A recent study from the Georgia Institute of Technology found that the more intelligent and creative a person is, the more likely he or she will daydream. The Georgia Tech team examined the brain patterns of 112 participants, who stared at a fixed point for five minutes while their brains were monitored by an MRI. This helped the scientists determine which areas of the brain were working together. They next asked participants to fill out questionnaires about whether or not their minds wander and to take tests that would help measure their creativity and their intelligence.

They discovered that people who fessed up to more frequent daydreaming scored higher on tests of intellectual and creative ability and had more efficient brain systems than those who simply reserved their dream time for sleep. “People tend to think of mind wandering as something that's bad,” explains study author Eric Schumacher, PhD, an associate professor of psychology at Georgia Tech. “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.” If your brain has a large capacity for a lot of ideas, the researchers say, your mind will wander when it’s performing a task that’s simply not challenging enough.

So the next time you start thinking about a great idea for a novel or the best place to go for your next vacation while you’re supposed to be, say, putting together your expense report or paying a pile of bills, don’t feel guilty, feel smart.