If you’ve ever felt guilty for sitting at your desk during work hours daydreaming about all the other things you’d rather be doing, feel guilty no more! A new study has shown that daydreaming might actually be a good thing.
The study which was published in the journal, Psychological Science, shows that people whose minds wander during simple tasks may actually have a higher capacity for working memory. Working memory is what enables us to think about multiple things at once, and has been linked with intelligence (such as IQ score and reading comprehension).
According to a statement by study researcher Jonathan Smallwood of the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Science, “people who have additional working memory resources deploy them to think about things other than what they’re doing.”
Researchers had study participants do one of two tasks. One task was to press a button when they saw a certain letter come across a screen. The second task was to tap in sync with their own breathing. The researchers checked in from time to time with the study participants as they completed the two tasks, in order to see if their minds were wandering, then tested their working memory by having them complete a task where they had to recall alphabet letters that had been mixed in with simple math questions.
They found that the people whose minds wandered during the first task were also the ones who had a greater working memory.
“Our results suggest that the sorts of planning that people do quite often in daily life — when they’re on the bus, when they’re cycling to work, when they’re in the shower — are probably supported by working memory. Their brains are trying to allocate resources to the most pressing problems.”
Other studies in the past have also found that daydreaming, or simply taking a mental break, is healthy for your brain, especially when it comes to memory making. So the next time your mind wanders off in the middle of a conversation, don’t feel bad about it, you’ve got the perfect excuse … your brain has better, more important things to do.