Carried out by the Georgia Institute of Technology in the US city of Atlanta, the study analyzed the brain patterns of more than 100 participants using MRI scans.
While in the scanner participants were asked to focus on a fixed point for five minutes so the team could identify which parts of the brain worked in unison.
“The correlated brain regions gave us insight about which areas of the brain work together during an awake, resting state,” explained Godwin, a Georgia Tech psychology PhD candidate and co-author of the study.
Participants were also asked to complete the Mind Wandering Questionnaire and completed tests that measured creativity, executive function (which includes decision making and mental flexibility) and fluid intelligence (which is the ability to solve new problems, use logic in new situations, and identify patterns).
After analyzing all of the data, the team found that participants who reported more frequent daydreaming on the questionnaire also scored higher on intellectual and creative ability and had more efficient brain systems measured in the MRI machine.
“People with efficient brains may have too much brain capacity to stop their minds from wandering,” explained co-author Eric Schumacher.
“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.”
Schumacher says that higher efficiency means more capacity to think, and the brain may wander when performing easy tasks.
“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.”
If you can zone in and out of conversations or tasks when appropriate, then naturally tune back in without missing important information, then this is also the sign of an efficient brain said the team.
However, Godwin added that, “There are important individual differences to consider as well, such as a person’s motivation or intent to stay focused on a particular task.”
The findings can be found published online in the journal Neuropsychologia.