Remember all those times you’ve found yourself rudely jarred back to reality after a nice daydream by somebody telling you to “snap out of it” or somebody waving their hand in front of your face like you were some sort of deranged motion detector? Daydreamers are often seen as the lazy time wasters of the world, and that may be so but they also may be the most socially compatible. Turns out that all those times you were told to stop idling as kid, you were actually working on your friend-making skills, according to a study published in Nature Reviews Neurology.
Researchers in Australia looked at early onset dementia patients who usually lose function in either the frontal or the temporal lobes of the brain, which are associated with language and picking up social cues. For lack of a better term, what is commonly called “daydreaming” is actually a phenomena where a person slips into what scientists refer to as the brain’s “default network.” Think of it as a sort of auto-pilot for the brain. These default mental engagements are quite complicated, involving multiple parts of the brain, and help an individual socially self-project by recalling memory and imagining potential life and social scenarios. According to the study, this capability of self-projecting oneself is one of the first attributes to be affected by the onset of frontotemporal dementia.
When patients with full functioning frontal and temporal lobe capabilities were placed in an fMRI machine and allowed to daydream, sections of the brain in these lobes associated with memory, imagination, and interaction lit up, functions that are necessary to building social interactions and relationships.
Although the findings the study are still quite preliminary, it’s fascinating to consider that mapping out the brain’s networked functioning when it slips into auto-pilot could have fundamental implications for understanding the physiological mechanisms underlying human social networks and our ability to socialize period. Plus it may help us understand why those with certain types of frontotemporal dementia are lacking these areas. Personally though, it’s just comforting to know that accumulated years of my life that have been spent daydreaming have not been, as I ’ve been told, a complete waste of my time.