Find your mind wandering during that umpteenth meeting at work? Don’t panic. It’s actually a good thing. A new study from the Georgia Institute of Technology suggests that daydreaming during meetings might be a sign that you’re really smart and creative. “People with efficient brains may have too much brain capacity to stop their minds from wandering,” said Eric Schumacher, the Georgia Tech associate psychology professor who co-authored the study.
Schumacher, lead co-author Christine Godwin and colleagues measured the brain patterns of more than 100 people while they lay in an MRI machine. Participants were instructed to focus on a stationary fixation point for five minutes. The Georgia Tech team used the data to 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,” said Godwin, a Georgia Tech psychology Ph.D. candidate.
Once they analyzed how the brain works together at rest, the team compared the data with tests the participants took that measured their intellectual and creative abilities. Participants also filled out a questionnaire about how much their mind wandered in daily life. Those who reported more daydreaming scored higher on intellectual and creative ability and had more efficient brain systems measured in the MRI machine.
Turns out that people with more efficient brains have more capacity to think, allowing the brain to wander more when performing easy tasks, say researchers. “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.”
The study authors say the findings will lead to follow-up research to understand when mind wandering might be helpful or harmful. In the meantime, don’t beat yourself up the next time you zone out at work—just smile to yourself knowingly, you genius, you.