Daydreaming has long been a point of contention for school administrators and employers alike, as it’s usually interpreted as a sign of distraction and disinterest. But there’s a new perspective on this classic pastime for passing the time! Now a study released by researchers from the University of Wisconsin suggests that people who daydream might have a higher working memory. The study has received considerable media attention because it points to a possibility that many administrators and HR reps would be loathe to admit: daydreaming might just be good for your mind.
While this study certainly doesn’t speak for all daydreamers, the basic conclusions drawn from it are still worth investigating. Let’s take a look at the basic message to take away from the new perspective on daydreaming and what it might mean for the average person.
The study tested participants in a number of memory-related tasks. First, participants were told to perform a fairly basic test, pressing a button whenever they received a signal to do so. Then these same people participated in another test where they had to work on a math problem while trying to keep a string of letter in their minds. Afterwards the participants were asked whether or not their minds wandered while they were carrying out the simple task. The researchers found that those who let their mind wander during the simple task were often more likely to remember the string of letters during the more mentally taxing math problem exercise.
The researchers interpreted this data to mean that people who daydream during simple tasks effectively exercise their memory by using it during periods of time where they don’t need to pay attention. The daydreamers had a higher “working memory capacity,” meaning that their memory had more power to remember and recall certain key events and details.
Start spacing out?
This study shouldn’t encourage you to zone out during every lull at work or during your classes. The participants in this study weren’t told that their daydreaming habits were being measured; they just acted how they normally do when they were told to carry out a simple task. There’s no telling whether or not daydreaming will benefit the memory if you willfully try it out. More research will need to be done to prove further the benefits of daydreaming, but the initial results are promising.
The study should be considered a small victory for the creatives and dreamers who have been scolded their entire lives for keeping their heads in the clouds. The linkage between increased memory capacity and daydreaming makes sense, if just because it confirms that having a vivid imagination is a sign of intelligence and something to be encouraged. So the next time you’re doing laundry or shopping for groceries and find yourself daydreaming about something else, don’t feel guilty about it. You’re just working out your brain.
This guest post is contributed by Katheryn Rivas, who writes on the topics of online university. She welcomes your comments at her email:firstname.lastname@example.org.