We've all been there: You're at a dull work meeting or presentation, and your mind keeps wandering-to what to eat for lunch, your weekend plans, or what's going on with the new season of Stranger Things.
Don't feel so bad about all your daydreaming. Mind-wandering may be a sign of intelligence and creativity, according to a new study in the journal Neuropsychologia. And as long as your performance at work are doesn't suffer when your mind drifts, daydreaming may not be such a bad thing after all, the study authors say.
Researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology wanted to study what happens to people's brain patterns when they're told to lie still and do nothing-a prime opportunity for mind-wandering. So they asked 112 study participants to do just that: lie in an MRI machine while starting at a fixed point for five minutes.
The research team used those readings to identify which parts of the brain worked together during this type of awake but resting state, and they also compared the readings to tests the participants took to measure their creative and intellectual abilities. In addition, the participants filled out a questionnaire about how much their mind wandered in daily life.
The researchers made several interesting connections. People who reported more frequent daydreaming during the day scored higher on creative and intellectual tests. Their MRIs also showed they had more efficient brain systems-meaning different regions of the brain were more in sync with each other-compared to people who reported less frequent mind-wandering.
The finding that mind-wandering is associated with intelligence was somewhat surprising, says lead author Christine Godwin, a psychology PhD candidate. That's because previous research has linked mind-wandering to poorer performance on memory and reading-comprehension tests, lower SAT scores, negative mood, and mental-health disorders.
"But when you think about the possibility that mind-wandering can potentially be helpful at times for cognitive-or at least not directly harmful-it makes sense," Godwin tells Health. Other research has also suggested that daydreaming (along with night dreaming) may help people become better problem-solvers, and that daydreaming about the future "can be particularly beneficial in preparing individuals to obtain their upcoming goals," the authors wrote in their paper.