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It’s Okay to Space Out, Science Told Me So!

“Yes?” my professor asked me.

“Huh?” I answered.

“Do you have  something to share with us?”

I racked my brain.


“Oh, well you were just staring at me, smiling. I thought you had some anecdote to share.”

My professor didn’t seem upset or put off and so I decided to be truthful. At 23 years old, I am far too old to lie when so obviously caught in a daydream.

“I’m sorry, I was just spacing out. I don’t know what I was thinking about,” I said truthfully. I remember the half-grin I felt fall from my face when she unexpectedly called on me  but I couldn’t place where it came from.

My peers laughed and she laughed and we moved on. Well, they moved on. I continued in my reverie. I propped my elbow onto my desk, rested my chin in my palm and used my fingers to cover the side of my mouth that always lifts first when smiling, just in case I found what made me smile in the first place.

Sometimes I feel that at my age, I should exist within the real world more often. This would be a lot easier to do if the real world contained as many IHOP visits with Lil’ Wayne, horseback rides with Jon Hamm and mattresses made of cushioned hundred dollar bills as my imaginary one does, but it doesn’t. The real world contains approximately zero of those things, plus I have bills. Do you know how many bills I have in my imaginary world? One, and it’s Bill Cosby and he’s my surrogate uncle and we laugh about pudding pops and sweaters for hours on end.

In the past, I  have wondered why some of us are so prone to daydreaming. A number of reasons crossed my mind — it’s a form of escapism when we are unhappy, it’s a coping mechanism when we are sad or maybe it’s a natural byproduct of being happy and creative. Who knows! Not me. Not until I got really smart and Googled “daydreams, science”.

(That’s how I get all my smarts, you guys: I Google what I have questions about and then I put the word science in there. It’s a foolproof method.)

There’s good news for us, Reverie Revelers. Our daydreams are productive, so says

Until now, the brain’s “default network” – which is linked to easy, routine mental activity and includes the medial prefrontal cortex (PFC), the posterior cingulate cortex and the temporoparietal junction – was the only part of the brain thought to be active when our minds wander.

However, the study finds that the brain’s “executive network” – associated with high-level, complex problem-solving and including the lateral PFC and the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex – also becomes activated when we daydream.

“This is a surprising finding, that these two brain networks are activated in parallel,” says Christoff. “Until now, scientists have thought they operated on an either-or basis – when one was activated, the other was thought to be dormant.” The less subjects were aware that their mind was wandering, the more both networks were activated.

Dream on, dreamers. What may be misconstrued as a bad habit of children may actually be our superior coping mechanism at work. Next time someone tells you to pay attention, tell them you’re too busy activating your complex problem-solving brain matter.

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