A study from the Georgia Institute of Technology suggests that people with more efficient brains have greater capacity to think, allowing them to daydream about other things while performing simple tasks. “People tend to think of mind wandering as something that is bad. You try to pay attention and you can’t,” says Eric Schumacher, associate psychology professor and co-author of the study. “Our data shows this isn’t always true.”
Schumacher and his team used MRI scans to measure the brain patterns of 100 people while they focused on a fixed point for five minutes, to identify which areas of their brains worked together when awake and resting.
They compared this data with the results of intelligence and creativity tests the participants had taken. Those who reported more frequent daydreaming scored higher in these tests and, according to their MRI scans, had more efficient brains.
Schumacher believes the findings open the door for further research to understand when mind wandering is harmful, and when it may actually be helpful. “There are important differences to consider, such as a person’s motivation or intent to stay focused on a particular task,” he says.