VANCOUVER (Canada) - CONTRARY to common opinion, daydreaming is not slacking off because when the brain wanders it is working even harder to solve problems, new research has shown.
Scientists scanned the brains of people lying inside magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines, as they alternately pushed buttons or rested.
The scans showed that the 'default network' deep inside a human brain becomes more active during daydreaming.
But in a surprise finding the scans also revealed intense activity in the executive network, the outlying region of the brain associated with complex problem-solving, neuroscientist Kalina Christoff told AFP.
'People assume that when the mind wanders away it just gets turned off - but we show the opposite, that when it wanders, it turns on,' said Dr Christoff, co-author of the study, and head of a neuroscience laboratory at the University of British Columbia in Western Canada.
The findings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggest daydreaming might be a better way to solve problems than intense focusing.
'People who let themselves daydream might not think in the same focused way as when performing a goal-oriented task, but they bring in more mental and brain resources,' said Dr Christoff.
She argued that now people might change their attitudes towards daydreamers.
'Within ourselves, we have absorbed that attitude that mind wandering is a bad thing. We're harsh on ourselves, if we catch ourselves mind wandering,' she said.
'A more playful attitude might allow you to call in more resources.' People typically spend one-third of their waking time daydreaming. 'It's a big part of our lives, but it's been largely ignored by science,' Dr Christoff said.
The study is the first to use MRIs to study brain activity during 'spontaneous thoughts and subjective experiences,' said Dr Christoff.
'Until now the only way was to use self-reports that were not always reliable.' -- AFP