Children whose minds wander ‘have sharper brains’


The Telegraph

A study has found that people who appear to be constantly distracted have more “working memory”, giving them the ability to hold a lot of information in their heads and manipulate it mentally.

Children at school need this type of memory on a daily basis for a variety of tasks, such as following teachers’ instructions or remembering dictated sentences.

During the study, volunteers were asked to perform one of two simple tasks during which researchers checked to ask if the participants’ minds were wandering.

At the end, participants measured their working memory capacity by their ability to remember a series of letters interspersed with simple maths questions.

Daniel Levinson, a psychologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the United States, said that those with higher working memory capacity reported “more mind wandering during these simple tasks”, but their performance did not suffer.

The results, published online in the journal Psychological Science, appear to confirm previous research that found working memory allows humans to juggle multiple thoughts simultaneously.

Dr Jonathan Smallwood, of the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Science in Leipzig, Germany, said: “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.”

Working memory capacity is also associated with general measures of intelligence, such as reading comprehension and IQ scores, and also offers a window into the widespread, but not well understood, realm of internally driven thoughts.

Dr Smallwood added: “Our results suggest the sorts of planning that people do quite often in daily life — when they are on the bus, when they are cycling to work, when they are in the shower — are probably supported by working memory.

“Their brains are trying to allocate resources to the most pressing problems.”

One Response

  1. Faith Rhyne says:

    This is good research and the conclusion that distraction may indicate increased attention to multiple considerations is important. What looks like inattention (and what may be medicated) may actually be neurodivergent brains trying to make sense of the world in complex ways. Thanks for posting so many fascinating articles. I’m sure that you’re aware that this site seems like a conspiracy theory site. That’s okay. As far as such things are concerned, this one offers a nice balance of the reasonable and shocking and presents a clean-layout with lots of real science mixed in with fantastic story science. I wish I’d come across it sooner. In addition to helping me answer many questions, it would have offered a bit of comfort in knowing that I am not the only one who thinks about all this crazy shit. Oh, sick, Pepsi is putting aborted fetal cells in colas.

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