Does daydreaming make you smarter?

This is the provocative suggestion from a couple of studies cited by Jonah Lehrer, author of Proust was a Neuroscientist, and a man who has written at least one good article in praise of daydreaming.

On The Frontal Cortex, he writes: 

…in the latest edition
of Mind Matters, Susan Whitfield-Gabrieli and John Gabrieli of MIT
outline some interesting new research on the link between resting state
activity – the performance of the brain when it's lying still in a
brain scanner, doing nothing but daydreaming – and general

It turns out that cultivating an active idle mind, or
teaching yourself how to daydream effectively, might actually encourage
the sort of long-range neural connections that make us smart. At the
very least, it's time we stop discouraging kids from staring out the
classroom window, because mind wandering isn't a waste of time:

For the first time, functional measures of the resting
brain are providing new insights into network properties of the brain
that are associated with IQ scores. In essence, they suggest that in
smart people, distant areas of the brain communicate with each other
more robustly than in less smart people.

In a recent paper, researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences,
led by Ming Song, examined how resting brain networks differ between
people who have superior versus average IQ scores. They used graph
theory to quantify the network properties of the brain, such as how
strong the communication is among distant brain regions. A graph is a
mathematical representation that is composed of nodes (or brain
regions) and connections between them (functional connectivity or
temporal correlations), and can be used to characterize neural
networks. Like prior researchers, they found that the posterior
cingulate cortex is the hub of the human brain – it is the most widely
and intensively connected region of the human brain at rest. Moreover,
the strength of connectivity among distant brain regions was greater in
people with superior than average IQ scores.

But this begs a chicken-and-egg question: Does daydreaming lead to smarter people? Or are smarter people those who grew up daydreaming, and perhaps learned how to let their minds wander usefully? 

This daydreamer, for one, is happy to be encouraged in his mental wandering. I am reminded of one of the smartest people of my time, John Lennon, who was forever writing songs for and about dreams, dreaming, and daydreaming, from ""I'm Only Sleeping," early in his career, to a personal fave, "Watching the Wheels," late in his career. That one featured the memorable verse:

People say I'm lazy dreaming my life away
Well they give me all kinds of advice designed to enlighten me
When I tell them that I'm doing fine watching shadows on the wall
Don't you miss the big time boy you're no longer on the ball

Of course the way he sang it had something to do with that memorable quality as well…

Published by Kit Stolz

I'm a freelance reporter and writer based in Ventura County.

One thought on “Does daydreaming make you smarter?

  1. Daydreaming does not make us smarter, but it does help make us more creative and napping is even better. We need to listen to our daydreams, yes. Jonah is right.
    TITLE: Lawson Boatwright
    BLOG NAME: Lawson Boatwright
    DATE: 12/22/2011 01:00:35 AM
    A round of applause for your article.Really thank you! Really Great.


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