In a daydream? MRI links wandering mind with intelligence, efficiency

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Researchers form the Georgia Institute of Technology have comforting news for those who may drift into a daydream during an afternoon meeting. Such behavior, as seen via MRI, could be a sign of intellectual and creative abilities.

A study, published in the August issue of Neuropsychologia, examined 100 individuals, measuring brain activity of 100 people while in an MRI machine. The participants were instructed to focus on a single point for five minutes, while researchers examined which parts of the brain were stimulated.

"The correlated brain regions gave us insight about which areas of the brain work together during an awake, resting state," said Godwin, a PhD candidate in psychology at Georgia Tech. "Interestingly, research has suggested that these same brain patterns measured during these states are related to different cognitive abilities."

The research team also collected questionnaires about daydreaming habits in daily life. Those that scored higher for intellectual and creative abilities were more likely to experience a wandering mind.

"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 Eric Schumacher, a Georgia Tech associate psychology professor who cowrote the study. "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."

An efficient brain, according to the researchers, is capable of zoning into and out of conversations and tasks, all while not missing vital information.