Daydreaming is an occupational hazard for writers. In fact, for most of us, it’s a prerequisite for the job. The ability to let your mind go, to wander where it will and collect those plot bunnies and character profiles, is a necessary skill when the task you’re given is to create something out of nothing.
But that talent is not always appreciated. I always did well in school, but I succeeded despite a tendency to stare out the window, lost in my own world. (Teachers prefer that you pay attention to them for some reason.) I’ve also been known to slip in and out of a group conversation, requiring my companions to snatch me back to Earth. Fortunately, I have tolerant friends.
But now comes scientific proof that daydreaming is a sign not of attention deficit (though that can be the case, too) but of intelligence and creativity. A study from the Georgia Institute of Technology suggests that a "[p]eople with efficient brains may have too much brain capacity to stop their minds from wandering," according to Eric Schumacher, the Georgia Tech associate psychology professor who co-authored the study with Ph.D. candidate Christine Godwin.
Schumacher and his colleagues studied the brain patterns of 100 people as they lay in an MRI focusing on a single point for five minutes. They then compared this data with information gathered from tests that measured intellectual ability and creativity and questionnaires about how much the subjects’ minds wandered in daily life. Subjects who reported more daydreaming scored higher on intellectual ability and creativity. Their brain patterns also showed more efficiency in the MRI test. (Parts of their brains worked together more smoothly to focus on the fixed point.)
Schumacher says the results show higher efficiency means the brain may be free to wander when performing easy tasks. That is, the smarter you are, the more likely you are to daydream.
"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."
Of course, Schumacher and his colleagues admit further research is needed to determine when daydreaming may be helpful and when it may be harmful. (My attention-deficit daughter, for example, is highly intelligent, but school was very difficult for her. Too much daydreaming is not a good thing.)
In the meantime, I’ll continue to use my daydreaming skills to come up with wild ideas for my next novels. Just be aware you may have to drag me back to the conversation from somewhere in outer space.
*Information for this post provided by “Daydreaming is Good: It Means You’re Smart,” Science News, October 24. 2017 https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/10/171024112803.htm