By Nita Wong ’21
In today’s fast-paced society, daydreaming carries a negative connotation. Whether it be in class or during a work meeting, a wandering mind is not considered a positive trait. Recent research, however, suggests that daydreaming may denote superior brain efficiency and capacity.
A study led by Christine Godwin and Eric Schumacher of the Georgia Institute of Technology’s School of Psychology examined the relationship between intrinsic and large-scale brain networks – which play functional roles in the workings of many cognitive processes – and the propensity of the mind to wander; the neural networks considered included the default mode network (DMN), the dorsal attention network (DAN), and the frontoparietal control network (FPCN). First, to determine the extent of the 129 participants’ tendency to daydream, researchers had the subjects complete the Mind Wandering Questionnaire, which measures the frequency of task-unrelated thoughts in the respondent’s daily life. Next, participants undertook a number of tasks – the Operation Span Task (OSPAN) and the Symmetry Span Task (SSPAN), both of which assess working memory capacity, Raven’s advanced progressive matrices, which evaluates fluid intelligence, and the Remote Associates Task (RAT), which gauges creative thought. Finally, to document their brain patterns, the subjects underwent a resting state fMRI scan, an advanced MRI scan that generates a map of brain functioning showing increased blood flow to activated areas of the brain.
After conducting the experimental component of the study, researchers searched for correlations between different variables in the collected data. They found that participants who reported a greater tendency to daydream scored higher on the tasks evaluating intellectual and creative ability; moreover, their brain systems were more efficient, as evidenced by the MRI images. Researchers, therefore, concluded that the daydreamers’ higher levels of neural efficiency provided them with a greater neural capacity: their minds can afford to wander while those of individuals with lower levels of brain efficiency and capacity cannot.
While the researchers are hoping that follow-up research will confirm their findings, they do concede that there are instances in which mind wandering is indisputably harmful – when driving a vehicle, for example. In light of this, they anticipate that future studies will successfully differentiate between the workings of the brain in situations during which daydreaming is detrimental and in situations during which it is beneficial.
- C. Godwin, et. al., Functional connectivity within and between intrinsic brain networks correlates with trait mind wandering. ScienceDirect 103, 140-153 (2017). doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2017.07.006.
- Image retrieved from: https://www.pexels.com/photo/backlit-beach-clouds-dark-289998/