Lots of us daydream about how different the world would be if the 9/11 attacks had never happened (or maybe only happened in a parallel universe). Is daydreaming a sign of intelligence or creativity? It turns out that it’s a sign that our memories are working just fine.
Studies have found that our minds are wandering half the time, drifting off to thoughts unrelated to what we’re doing–did I remember to turn off the light? What should I have for dinner? In fact, you’re probably not going to make it all the way through this story without thinking about something else.
It’s actually just the way our memories work. Imagine you see your neighbor upon arriving home one day and schedule a lunch date. On your way to add it to your calendar, you stop to turn off the drippy faucet, feed the cat, and add milk to your grocery list. The capacity that allows you to retain the lunch information through those unrelated tasks is working memory. A person’s working memory capacity relates to their mind’s tendency to wander during a routine assignment.
Researcher Daniel Levinson says, . “People with higher working memory capacity reported more mind wandering during these simple tasks though their performance on (a) test was not compromised."
Researcher Jonathan Smallwood says, "We intentionally use tasks that will never use all of their attention, and then we ask, ‘how do people use their idle resources?’"
Levinson is now studying how training to increase working memory will affect wandering thoughts, to better understand the connection and how people can control it. He says, "Mind wandering isn’t free–it takes resources. You get to decide how you want to use your resources."
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