Don't worry if you have the habit of daydreaming or a wandering mind during meetings in office or at home. Relax! It may not be as bad as you think, but a sure sign that you are really smart and creative, researchers say.
The study found that people with efficient brains may have too much brain capacity to stop their minds from wandering when performing easy tasks.
"People tend to think of mind wandering as something that is bad. 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," said Eric Schumacher, Associate Professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta.
Higher efficiency denotes more capacity to think, and the mind may wander more when performing easy tasks, he said. The study, published in the journal Neuropsychologia, showed how the team measured the brain patterns of people while they were being scanned by an MRI machine.
The researchers then compared the data to identify areas of the brain which work together during an awake as well as resting state.
"The correlated brain regions gave us insight about which areas of the brain work together during an awake, resting state," said Christine Godwin, a Georgia Tech psychology Ph.D. candidate. "Interestingly, research has suggested that these same brain patterns measured during these states are related to different cognitive abilities," Godwin said.
Once they figured out how the brain works together at rest, the team compared the data with tests on participants that measured their intellectual and creative ability, besides asking them to fill out a questionnaire about how much their mind wandered in daily life.
Those who reported more frequent daydreaming scored higher on intellectual and creative ability and had more efficient brain systems, showed the the MRI machine results.
How can you tell if your brain is efficient? One clue is that you can zone in and out of conversations or tasks when appropriate, then naturally tune back in without missing important points or steps, said Schumacher.
"Our findings remind me of the absent-minded professor — someone who's brilliant, but off in his or her own world, sometimes oblivious to their own surroundings," said Schumacher. "Or school children who are too intellectually advanced for their classes. While it may take five minutes for their friends to learn something new, they figure it out in a minute, then check out and start daydreaming."
Godwin and Schumacher expect the findings to open the door for follow-up research to further understand when mind wandering is harmful, and when it may actually be helpful.
"There are important individual differences to consider as well, such as a person's motivation or intent to stay focused on a particular task," said Godwin.