We’ve all had those awkward moments of sitting through a meeting, only to realize you haven’t actually been listening to a word the presenter was saying—and praying no one else noticed. Thankfully, there’s a science-backed reason you can stop feeling so guilty about it, reveals a recent study in the journal Neuropsychologia.
In the study, more than 100 volunteers were told to stare at one spot for five minutes while lying in an MRI machine so researchers could figure out how their minds worked at rest. The participants also took tests measuring their smarts and creativity, then answered survey questions about how much they tend to daydream. (Find out what your usual daydreams say about you.)
Surprisingly, the results revealed the spaciest volunteers were actually the smartest. Those who admitted to letting their minds the most during daily life had more efficient brain systems based on the MRI results, and they also scored higher on the intellectual and creative ability tests. Learn more about how daydreaming boosts creativity.
When you think about it (yep, we’re giving you even more reason to start daydreaming), the results make sense. People with efficient brains can stop paying attention during easy steps without missing anything important, says study co-author and Georgia Tech associate psychology professor Eric Schumacher, Ph.D. In fact, there might be so much going on in their heads that they can’t help but think about other things, he says. (Find out why a dark sense of humor is a sign of intelligence, too.)
"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," Schumacher says in a statement. So instead of beating yourself up the next time you’re finding it hard to focus, give yourself a pat on the back. Plus, don't miss these other 9 quirky habits that prove you're smarter than everyone else.
This isn't the first study promoting letting your mind wander either. A previous study from the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science found that giving kids a chance to daydream can make them less anxious and more motivated. (Hang one of these 10 "dream big" quotes on your wall to motivate you while daydreaming about success.)
Of course, you shouldn’t just tune out of the world all the time. Studies have shown mindfulness—basically the polar opposite of daydreaming—can reduce stress, ease depression and anxiety, and might even reduce inflammation.
The key might be deciding what’s best for the situation, the daydream study authors say. For instance, daydreaming might be fine in a big meeting, but you probably shouldn’t glaze over during a one-on-one with your boss. But the time to be most careful is during this time when daydreaming could land you in the ER.