Daydreaming is more useful than we imagine, and science says so

Daydreaming is more useful than we imagine, and science says so

Staring into space during a meeting is often interpreted as a sign of boredom. But an American study suggests that getting lost in thought stimulates the creation of new neural networks in our brain. This could allow us to better assimilate information.

The authors of this research, published in the journal Nature, arrived at this conclusion after carrying out an experiment involving mice. They tracked and analyzed the rodents’ brain activity as they repeatedly looked at two checkerboard images. These were broadcast on a screen, which turned gray for a minute between each visual.

The researchers found that the mice’s neurons emitted a specific electrical signal when they looked at each of the two images. These signals were specific enough that scientists could differentiate between the two visuals. This allowed them to discover that when the rodents stared at the gray screen, their neuronal activity was similar, but not identical, to that recorded when they looked at one of the two images. In other words, they seemed to be dreaming of said visual.

These daydreams occurred only when the mice were relaxed, and more at the start of the day than in the evening, when the rodents had seen the images dozens of times. The academics noted that these moments of mental escape seem to play an important role in the mice’s memorization of each of the two visuals. “When you see two different images multiple times, it becomes important to differentiate them. Our observations suggest that daydreaming may guide this process by moving the neural patterns associated with the two images away from each other.“Nghia Nguyen, co-author of the study, told The Harvard Gazette.

Interestingly, the mice were better able to differentiate between the two checkerboard images when they let their minds wander, which leads Mr. Nguyen and his colleagues to think that daydreams have an impact on brain plasticity. However, further scientific work is necessary to prove, with certainty, the existence of this causal relationship.

Regardless, researchers are convinced of the need to take mental breaks from time to time. “We believe that if you never allow yourself time to rest while awake, you won’t have as many opportunities to daydream, which can be important for brain plasticity.“, said Mark Andermann. Enough to make you feel less guilty if you are caught deep in thought during a meeting.