Mind & Body

Daydreaming Might Actually Be Good for You

Let's get down to business (to defeat the Huns). Daydreaming isn't actually so bad (did they send me daughters), according to multiple studies (when I asked for sons). Wait, what were we talking about? Oh yeah, daydreaming. It's good. Keep reading (and I'll make a man out of you).

The Wandering Brain

According to psychology professor Eric Schumacher, "People with efficient brains may have too much brain capacity to stop their minds from wandering." It makes sense — brains get bored, and if there's a lot of brainpower that isn't being used, it's only natural that it would stray to unrelated topics.

A study co-authored by Schumacher backs up that claim. First, researchers put more than 100 subjects in an MRI machine and asked them to focus on a fixed point in space. This showed the researchers how different parts of their brains worked together. Next, they were given a test to measure their intellectual and creative abilities. And finally, they were asked to complete self-assessments of their daydreaming habits.

Unsurprisingly, some of those self-assessments (which were presumably turned in late) showed a very strong tendency to let the mind wander. And as it turned out, the people who thought they daydreamed the most also performed the best on the intellect-measuring test. Most telling of all, the different regions of their brains seemed to work together the most efficiently. Basically, that means that when they were bored, they could tune out and drift away to la-la land and count on a small corner of their brain to grab their attention when something important came up.

A Mental Workout

It's not just that your brain might be more efficient if you tend to daydream — daydreaming might give your brain a workout and help it get better, faster, and stronger. Researcher Jonathan Smallwood from the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Science worked on a study that found that daydreaming was linked to a stronger working memory. What's more, daydreaming more seemed to make it even stronger.

In this test, the subjects were given a simple task that nevertheless required constant attention. For example, they'd have to click a button every time they took a breath, or respond to a computer only when a certain letter appeared onscreen. They then had their working memory tested by being asked to remember certain letters while performing mathematical equations. Lo and behold, the people who reported daydreaming the most during their most mindless tasks were also the ones who best recalled the numbers even when called upon to use their brains.

So there you have it. Working on one thing while thinking about something else is good for your brain. Now if you'll excuse us, we need to go watch "Mulan."

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Learn more surprising mental superpowers in "Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind" by Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Reuben Westmaas December 4, 2017

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