Daydreaming: Helpful or Harmful?

Do you ever find your mind wandering while doing boring tasks, like cleaning or laundry? Are there times when you are trying to study that you have to reread a paragraph because you were thinking of something else? Do you ever think about if daydreaming is detrimental to the task at hand, or could it possibly help cognition?

A new study at Bar-Ilan University wanted to know how daydreaming and “mind wandering” affected task success. In their experiment, a transcranial current was directed to the areas of the frontal lobe that have been found to be associated with mind wandering. Participants were asked to track and respond to numerals flashed on a computer screen and also to report on a scale of 1 to 4 of how much they were experiencing spontaneous thoughts that had nothing to do with the numeral task. The results were far from expected.

The experiment found that increased mind wandering behavior made by external stimulation actually helped success on the numeral task rather than hindering success like originally thought. One of the explanations for this was that both mind wandering and task functioning are controlled in the same areas of the brain, the frontal lobes. By stimulating the spots associated with daydreaming, task functioning may have also stimulated and increased. So in terms of this experiment, daydreaming actually increases cognition.

So how can the results of the experiment be used in the real world? The low levels of electrical stimulation could actually be therapeutic in nature for those who have low levels of neural activity. Regularly stimulating the frontal lobe to increase cognitive function could have positive long-term effects for those with low or abnormal neural activity.

Something that the Bar-Ilan University lab would like to study next is how external electrical stimulation would affect other behaviors, like multi-tasking. Would it be the same as this current study and positively help success rates, or would it negatively hinder them? That is something we will have to look for in the future.

I personally think this study is really interesting because I find myself daydreaming a lot and have always thought that it was bad. I’ve tried many things to get myself out of the habit of my mind wandering, but after reading this article it may not be such a bad thing after all. Although excessive daydreaming would probably be detrimental, it sounds like little to moderate daydreaming is actually beneficial to cognition and task performance.

So if you find yourself daydreaming, don’t fret. Let your mind wander to success.


5 thoughts on “Daydreaming: Helpful or Harmful?

  1. cheyc

    This is a really interesting theory. Especially since in my clinical class we were talking about meditation in which one tries to actively not allow their mind to wander. Meditation has also been shown to help increase cognitive abilities so now I’m wondering which is the better option.

  2. elisepoffenberger

    This is really interesting! I would’ve through the results for the study at Bar-IIan University would’ve been completely opposite! Your facts and research provide a lot of information that is useful for the readers. It’s nice to know that something good can possibly come out of day dreaming, something that a lot of us probably take part in often.

  3. mdeasis

    I’m glad I came across this article that shines some positivity to daydreaming. As college students, we are all guilty of zoning out and daydreaming and I personally have tried to find ways to get my attention back especially in class. Of course daydreaming the entire class would not be beneficial but it’s nice to know that those little snippets of daydreaming aren’t too bad and might actually enhance learning.

  4. aestero

    This article is really interesting. It was nice to read about something that we’re all familiar with, especially those who are seniors and are experiencing ‘senioritis,’ at least that’s how it’s been for me. Lately I’ve been catching myself daydreaming about graduation day and life after graduation. It’s really nice to hear that daydreaming does have benefits, and that it’s not just a reason to not stay focused on what we should be focusing on. I think it’s really good to hear that researchers are doing studies on daydreaming and the effects it has on the daydreamer.

  5. valvarez

    What I found curious about your article was the mention that daydreaming “actually helped success on the numeral task rather than hindering success like originally thought.” Personally I think it could potential could be do to creating new retrieval pathways. Just like you, I catch myself think about other things all the time and typically far from the topic at hand. I’m also an over thinker so when my mind wanders I typically try to figure out how it got there. For example when we started learning about mutations in genetics my thought process went from mutations, mutant ninja turtles, how my friend loves them, and when I’ll see her later today, etc. So in a way it creates a different retrieval path for me personally to think about the topic. It also allows for a way to connect with the material so it becomes more salient and gives the material more oppertunity to be stored in long-term memory.

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