At high school, it’s invariably the kids that day dream who get told off. But a new study suggests that it’s those of us whose minds wander that have the best working memory—and working memory is itself directly associated to intelligence.
A new study, conducted by the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Science, suggests that a person’s working memory capacity relates to the tendency of their mind to wander during routine tasks. Working memory is the capacity to remember information for short periods of time—say, remembering a number while you dig out your phone.
To reach their findings, which are published in Psychological Science, the team had participants undertake a simple routine task, asking them to press a button when they saw a letter appear on a computer screen. Throughout the tests, they also periodically asked them if they were actively focusing on the task or thinking about something else. They also measured each participant’s working memory by asking them to remember strings of letter while performing math problems.
The result? People with higher working memory capacity reported more mind wandering during simple tasks. Jonathan Smallwood, one of the researchers, explains to Science Daily:
“What this study seems to suggest is that, when circumstances for the task aren’t very difficult, people who have additional working memory resources deploy them to think about things other than what they’re doing.”