Daydreaming can sometimes be an effective way to solve problems, despite conventional wisdom to the contrary. Recent research published in the May 2009 journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences details these findings in a study by Kalina Christoff and her colleagues of the University of British Columbia in Canada .
In this study, participants were placed in an fMRI scanner while doing a routine task. Researchers were able to discern which part of the brain was active in participants when the participants’ minds began to wander from the boring activity.
It had been assumed for a long time that only routine cognitive abilities were active when the mind wanders, not higher order thinking skills. However, in this study researchers found that parts of the brain in charge of executive functioning, which is involved in complex problem-solving, planning, and goal-directed behavior, were active when participants attention wandered from the routine task.
The implication is that during routine tasks, when the mind wanders, it may be trying to solve bigger, more important, problems and challenges. Studies have found that daydreaming can occupy up to 1/3 of our waking lives. So, the fact that we might unconsciously be working on problems during such times is good news indeed. However, there is a danger of which we need to be wary when we daydream. I’ll cover this in my next post.