Daydreaming might not be such a bad thing after all. Even as one wanders away from the reality, one could indeed be finding solutions to complex problems.
Apparently daydreaming — which can occupy as much as one-third of our waking lives — is an important cognitive state.
For our brains are much more active when we daydream than previously thought, according to a University of British Columbia study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
"Mind-wandering is typically associated with negative things like laziness or inattentiveness," said study author Kalina Christoff, a psychology professor at the varsity.
"But this study shows our brains are very active when we daydream — much more active than when we focus on routine tasks."
For the study, subjects were placed inside an fMRI scanner, where they performed the simple routine task of pushing a button when numbers appeared on a screen. The researchers tracked subjects' attentiveness moment-to-moment through brain scans, subjective reports from subjects and by tracking their performance on the task.
Until now, the brain's "default network," which is linked to easy, routine mental activity, was the only part of the brain thought to be active when our minds wander.
However, the study finds that the brain's "executive network" — associated with high-level, complex problem-solving — also becomes activated when we daydream.
"This is a surprising finding, that these two brain networks are activated in parallel," said Christoff. "Until now, scientists have thought they operated on an either-or basis. When one was activated, the other was thought to be dormant."
Dr. Steven Laureys of the University of Liege in Belgium had proposed last year that the default brain network could stay active even in severely brain-damaged patients.