While some tasks require a steady focus, those who have a wandering mind or tend to daydream might have an intellectual advantage. Staying on topic is a challenge for some people, they notice everything going on around them, so sticking to one subject can present a challenge.
While some might say there's a need for an evaluation for ADHD or some other attentional problem, a study from researchers at Georgia Tech suggests that it could be a sign of a higher IQ and a superior creative ability.
To test their hypothesis on attention, the team had volunteers undergo a functional MRI scan (fMRI) while being instructed to focus solely on a fixed point for five minutes. The scans showed which parts of the brain were most active during this task and how they worked together.
After seeing the patterns of brain activity and analyzing the data from the scans, the team asked participants to complete testing to measure intellect, creativity, and attention to detail. They also filled out questionnaires that asked, among other things, how often they found themselves daydreaming.
When the answers to the surveys were compared with the brain scans, it showed that those who reported daydreaming on a regular basis had also scored higher on the assessments of intellect and creativity. There could be several reasons for this correlation, but study co-author Eric Schumacher, an associate psychology professor at Georgia Tech, suggested it might be that these people have an above average brain capacity for processing stimuli.
He stated, "People with efficient brains may have too much brain capacity to stop their minds from wandering. 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."
What exactly is an "efficient brain?" It's when the processing ability of the brain can multitask very easily. For example, a student in a classroom listening to a lecture might appear to be staring out the window and not focusing. However, if that student has a high level of efficiency in the brain, he or she will also have been listening to and understanding the lecture.
Schumacher summed up the study results saying, "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."
The research could be used as an aid to evaluating ADHD or processing disorders. The combination of the MRI scan and the intellectual assessments could be a diagnostic tool when looking at attentional issues and brain function. The video below explains more about the work.