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.