Letting your mind wander from time to time can actually help your brain process information, and can serve as a workout for your “working memory,” or your mental capacity for handling multiple thoughts and dealing with competing issues simultaneously. In fact, a new study published in the journal Psychological Sciencesuggests that if you frequently catch yourself daydreaming, you may have a strong working memory—meaning you can focus on multiple things and daydream without forgetting the things you have to work on.
Granted, the study draws the line between people who daydream because they’re bored and subsequently forget everything they were doing before they started daydreaming, and people who daydream because the things they’re working on simply doesn’t require their full attention. “Working memory” is that ability to process multiple things in your head at once—or in other words, what you’re using on the long commute home when you’re thinking about what you’ll make for dinner when you get home, whether you’ll have time to play a few video games or fire up a movie, when you should check in with the office again, if you have any chores to do when you get home, all while you’re trying to safely drive through rush-hour traffic.
To support the conclusion that daydreaming may be actually mental exercise for your working memory, researchers asked groups of people from 18 to 65 to do simple tasks—so simple their full attention wasn’t required—and then followed up with some light cognitive tests to have participants remember letters while doing simple math equations. In almost all cases, the individuals who admitted to their mind wandering during the simple tasks did better on the cognitive tests. The researchers concluded that while everyone did well on the tests, those people with more working memory are likely to use it to do more mentally even when they’re supposed to be doing something else—effectively daydreaming.
This isn’t the first research to indicate that daydreaming can be good for your brain. So if your attention tends to wander a bit while you work on other things, don’t feel too bad about it. As long as it doesn’t make you less creative and productive, you could actually be getting more done with the brainpower you have.
Do you catch yourself daydreaming from time to time? Do you feel like it helps or hurts your productivity? For more information on the study—which was published in the March 14th edition of Psychological Science, hit the link below, and let us know what you think in the comments.
- The Origins of Positive-Constructive Daydreaming (blogs.scientificamerican.com)