Contrary to what is perceived, daydreaming isn’t entirely unhealthy. According to a report, scientists at Harvard University have found confirmation that when mice’ daydream’, their brains develop the capacity for higher memory and learning.
“We wanted to know how this daydreaming process occurred on a neurobiological level and whether these moments of quiet reflection could be important for learning and memory,” a neurobiologist Nghia Nguyen from Harvard University told media outlets.
Nature, a journal, published this study.
Thirteen mice used in the study were placed in an otherwise non-stimulating environment. Throughout the day, they were shown two distinct black-and-white images 64 times for two seconds each.
These tests were repeated over a few days while the Harvard team recorded the electrical activity of 7,000 neurons in the brains of eight mice, including neurons in the hippocampus and visual cortex, two areas that are closely linked to memory consolidation.
In the end, the mice’s lateral visual cortex showed distinct patterns of neural activity in response to each of the two images.
This area of the brain is involved in identifying objects and distinguishing between the characteristics of shapes.
According to the research, the mouse brain uses a distinct pattern of neural activity to encode each image.
A blank computer screen replaced the images. The study claimed that the mouse visual cortex occasionally reactivated, stimulating a similar pattern of neurons to the removed image.
The study added that this short reactivation in the visual cortex led to sharp-wave ripples in the hippocampus, indicating that the brain efficiently processed visual information regardless of the absence of a stimulus.
Brain activity upon seeing an image resembled that of daydreaming about that image.
“When you see two different images many times, it becomes important to discriminate between them,” Nguyen was quoted as saying. “Our findings suggest that daydreaming may guide this process by steering the neural patterns associated with the two images away from each other.”
According to the research, the brain can wander into an imagined realm when it is not being stimulated. In this state, mental images have the power to actively rearrange the brain’s future reactions to stimuli.
Other studies claim that people who daydream more are better at recalling in a less conducive concentration setting.
“We feel pretty confident that if you never give yourself any awake downtime, you’re not going to have as many of these daydream events, which may be important for brain plasticity,” neurobiologist Mark Andermann from Harvard told the media house.
A caveat. Scientists warn about excesses of daydreaming. Too much of it could lead to a deficiency in attention and short-term memory.