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The next time your boss calls you out for daydreaming, just tell her you have a highly-efficient brain.
People who have a tendency to let their mind wander score higher on creativity and intelligence tests, and their brains may have extra capacity to quickly process information, a recent study published in the journal Neuropsychologia has found.
If you’re at a lecture or work presentation, you may start daydreaming because you already got that point quicker than other people, said study co-author Eric Schumacher, as associate psychology professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology. You can “afford” to check out for a while without any consequences.
“We all find our minds wander throughout the day and one possibility from the research we did… is that maybe that’s not necessarily a failure. Maybe it’s related to our high intelligence,” Schumacher told TODAY.
About 30-50 percent of your daily life is spent mind wandering, previous studies have found. Much of it is thinking about what you’re going to do in the future — the errands you have to run after work or the vacation you’re planning to take next month.
All those thoughts are competing in your brain, and some will win out, which can take your mind off the primary task — paying attention in a meeting, for example. “We tend to think it’s [bad],” Schumacher said, but for some of us, that may not be the case.
For the study, researchers asked more than 100 people to fill out a questionnaire designed to measure how much they let their mind wander. They had to rate how often they agreed with statements such as: “While reading, I find I haven’t been thinking about the text and must therefore read it again” or “I find myself listening with one ear, thinking about something else at the same time.”
The participants also took creativity and intelligence tests. MRI scans then measured how efficient their brains were at rest.
It turned out that people who tended to let their minds wander more also tended to have more efficient brains, and scored higher on the creativity and intelligence tests, Schumacher said.
“There might be situations where your brain realizes you have excess capacity and you can think about something else without a detriment to your [primary] task,” he noted.
But Schumacher cautioned against patting yourself on the back too quickly. Many people whose minds wander may not have especially high intelligence, he said.
How can you tell if you have extra brain capacity, or lack focus?
The authors of this study don’t have research on that, but Schumacher suggested thinking about your own performance. If you find yourself daydreaming a lot, but you’re handling your work and getting good evaluations, it’s a good sign.
“But if you’re daydreaming a lot and in trouble with your boss, that might be an indication your daydreaming is maladaptive,” Schumacher said. In other words, focus more.