Daydreaming Kids May Be Brighter, Say Scientists

15/04/2012 12:42 | Updated 22 May 2015
Girl daydreaming at schoolRex Features
Is you child a daydreamer, always lost in their own thoughts, and easily distracted?

Are you forever nagging them to get a move on, pick things up, do this, do that, because they never seem to pay attention to a single thing you say?

Well, first the bad news: there isn't a thing you can do about it.

And now the good: you may be raising a mini-genius!

For new research says absent-minded children might actually have sharper brains.

Their study showed that those who appear to be constantly distracted in fact have more "working memory", giving them the ability to do two things at the same time.

The researchers asked participants to either press a button in response to the appearance of a certain letter on a screen, or tap in time with their breath.

The researchers checked periodically to ask if their minds were wandering. At the end, they measured the participants' working memory capacity, giving them a score for their ability to remember a series of letters interspersed with easy maths questions.

The results of the research, by Daniel Levinson, a psychologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and published online in Psychological Science, are the first to show the association with mind-wandering and intelligence.

It's thought the extra mental workspace is used, for instance, when adding up two spoken numbers without being able to write them down.

Its capacity has been associated with general measures of intelligence, such as reading comprehension and IQ score.

As the stepfather of a daydreamy 10-year-old, these findings make perfect sense to me.

History is famously populated by geniuses who could barely put their underpants on yet solved some of science's greatest mysteries. Isaac Newton was one; Albert Einstein another. Both absent-minded professors.

And although I don't think mine is quite in the atom-splitting league of intelligence, this research has certainly given her mother and I some cause for optimism.

At the moment, we spend our lives nagging our girl. "Have you packed your homework? Have you cleaned your teeth? Where's your P.E. kit? What on earth is going on with your hair? GET IT BRUSHED."

While all this is happening, she wanders around in a daze. Literally away with the fairies in her head.

She comes home from school, drops her bags and coat in the middle of the living room and steps away from them, leaving them in a pile for us to tidy up.

She goes into her bedroom to do her homework only to emerge an hour later with some drawings of butterflies or an outline of a play she'd like to perform with her brothers i.e. absolutely, completely, nothing whatsoever to do with the maths she was sent in there to do.

But it's not because she's belligerent or stroppy – though as a typical 10 year-old she certainly has her moments – it's because her thoughts always seem to be elsewhere.


In fact, she often seems so absent in the mind-stakes that we have a nickname for her: Dolly Daydream. And our easily-distracted daughter drives me and her mother to distraction.

We have had endless discussions about how to get her to engage more; how to get her to focus on the task at hand. But no amount of hand-wringing or cajoling has worked so in the end we concluded: "It's just the way she is."

And now it seems that the way she is might actually be a Very Good Thing.

Cognitive therapist Dan Roberts told "if your child is a bit of a daydreamer, I certainly wouldn't worry about it.

"As this new study on working memory suggests, appearing distracted or absent-minded may be a sign that your child's brain is more adept at performing a number of different tasks at the same time, rather than having to concentrate hard on one thing after another.

"While parents do have to encourage their children to knuckle down, both in school and when slogging through homework, it's crucial that we don't make kids feel bad or inadequate just because their minds seem to wander.

"For brighter children, a great deal of their schoolwork is likely to be mundane, so their daydreaming may also be a sign of boredom. If so, the key is to find subjects that stimulate and engage them, rather than getting frustrated or impatient when their attention flits about."

I doubt very much that my stepdaughter has genius tendencies, but she is unquestionably as sharp as a tack. For a recent school fair, she set up her own "Body Art" parlour – and made the princely sum of £50. Last week, she got an A+ in French. And the week before that, she was top of her year in a spelling challenge.

Yes, she might be a Dolly Daydream, but I'd like to think it's not because she's lazy, thoughtless or rude – but that her mind is so full of plans for world domination that she has no room in her massive brain to pick up a couple of wet towels from the bathroom floor.

As long as she shares her vast wealth with me and her mother one day, we'll just have to put up with it.

Do these findings ring true for you?

Do you have a day dreaming but bright child?

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