Daydreaming linked to increased intelligence and creativity


A study conducted by the Georgia Institute of Technology reports that daydreaming is actually an indicator of increased intelligence and creativity.

The psychology department at Georgia Tech suggests that people who catch themselves daydreaming in class or zoning out during a conversation are smarter than their focused counterparts.

Eric Schumacher, a Georgia Tech associate psychology professor, conducted a study titled “Functional connectivity within and between intrinsic brain network correlates with trait mind wandering” with his students and colleagues by testing 109 college-educated individuals aged 20 to 50. These individuals were from Georgia Tech, the University of New Mexico and the surrounding regions of Atlanta and Albuquerque. Participants were tested on their intelligence as well as the rate at which their minds wandered.

First, participants had to complete a Mind Wandering Questionnaire, which included five statements intended to assess absent-mindedness. Some of the statements were “I mind-wander during lectures or presentations,” “I find myself listening with one ear, thinking about something else at the same time” and “While reading, I find I haven’t been thinking about the text and must therefore read it again.” Participants had to rank their level of agreement with the five statements, with 1 denoted for almost never and 6 denoted for almost always. They were then tested on their intelligence through multiple tests measuring their memory, creativity and arithmetic.

At the study’s end, each participant was required to enter an MRI machine and stare at a single point for five minutes. This boring task resulted in people’s minds wandering, which the researchers were able to record based on brain patterns from the MRI. Schumacher, along with his students and colleagues, found those who had increased intellectual and creative skills also had more efficient brain systems. This led to a high correlation between mind wandering scores and intelligence levels.

Schumacher suggests that, “People with efficient brains may have too much brain capacity to stop their minds from wandering.”  In other words, those with increased intelligence cannot stop themselves from daydreaming when they feel their minds being underutilized.

People with increased brain efficiency can complete tasks in less time and contemplate more advanced subjects. These people were also proven to have higher IQ levels.

In Schumacher’s own words, “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 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.”

One Baruch College student disagreed with the study, claiming that daydreaming is a negative process that reaps no benefits and joked that “how good you are at memorizing a page out of the phone book would be a much better sign of high intelligence.”

However, Nifin, a psychology student pursuing her masters, clarified that Georgia Tech’s findings are accurate with her coursework, saying that, “Daydreaming is perfectly normal. Humans use all sorts of methods to bring about an altered state of consciousness; daydreaming is just one of them.”

Furthermore, Nifin added that, “It’s usually good for enhancing intelligence and imagination.”

This raises the question of whether daydreaming is a sign of intelligence and if it actually contributes to improving one’s state of mind.

Michael Kane, a psychology professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, conducted a study in 2016, determining that “daydreaming strategically” can improve focus and solve problems. Even Dr. Srini Pillay, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, wrote a book on how to properly daydream, titled Tinker Dabble Doodle Try: Unlock the Power of the Unfocused Mind.

The different studies and students’ opinions reveal how science and society are often at odds. Despite Baruch students looking down upon daydreaming, psychologists have consistently proved that daydreaming is beneficial. As Schumacher emphasizes, “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.”

All in all, the study confirmed that people who daydream in class or in the office display their genius and are considered brighter than their more focused counterparts.