Daydreaming during meetings isn't necessarily a bad thing - and it might even be a sign that you're really smart and creative.

"People with efficient brains may have too much brain capacity to stop their minds from wandering," explained Professor Eric Schumacher, of Georgia Institute of Technology in the US.

In a just-published study, Schumacher and fellow psychology researchers measured the brain patterns of more than 100 people while they lay in an MRI machine.

Participants were instructed to focus on a stationary fixation point for five minutes, before the team checked parts of the brain worked in unison.

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The results offered new insights about which areas of the brain work together during an awake, resting state - and interestingly, some of the same patterns had previously been shown to be related to different cognitive abilities.

Once they figured out how the brain worked together at rest, the team compared the data with tests on the participants that measured their intellectual and creative ability.

Participants also filled out a questionnaire about how much their mind wandered in daily life.

Those who reported more frequent daydreaming scored higher on intellectual and creative ability and had more efficient brain systems measured in the MRI machine.

"People tend to think of mind wandering as something that is bad," Schumacher said.

"You try to pay attention and you can't. Our data are consistent with the idea that this isn't always true. Some people have more efficient brains."

Higher efficiency meant more capacity to think, driving the mind to wander when performing easy tasks.

But could you tell if your brain was efficient?

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One clue was that you can zone in and out of conversations or tasks when appropriate, then naturally tune back in without missing important points or steps.

"Our findings remind me of the absent-minded professor - someone who's brilliant, but off in his or her own world, sometimes oblivious to their own surroundings," Schumacher said.

"Or schoolchildren who are too intellectually advanced for their classes.

"While it may take five minutes for their friends to learn something new, they figure it out in a minute, then check out and start daydreaming."

The researchers think the findings open the door for follow-up research to further understand when mind wandering is harmful - and when it may actually be helpful.

Aliens may be more like us than we think

Two of Hollywood's ultimate aliens - Predator and Aliens' Xenomorph. Researchers say actual aliens may not be so beastly. Photo / File
Two of Hollywood's ultimate aliens - Predator and Aliens' Xenomorph. Researchers say actual aliens may not be so beastly. Photo / File

Hollywood films and science fiction literature fuel the belief that aliens are other-worldly, monster-like beings - think Stranger Things' Demogorgon or Alien's acid-spraying Xenomorph - which are very different to humans.

But new research suggests that we could have more in common with our extra-terrestrial neighbours than initially thought.

Oxford University scientists have just shown, for the first time, how evolutionary theory can be used to support alien predictions and better understand aliens' behaviour.

They show that aliens are potentially shaped by the same processes and mechanisms that shaped humans, such as natural selection.

The theory supports the argument that foreign life forms undergo natural selection, and are like us, evolving to be fitter and stronger over time.

"A fundamental task for astrobiologists - those who study life in the cosmos - is thinking about what extraterrestrial life might be like," Oxford researcher Sam Levin said.

"But making predictions about aliens is hard. We only have one example of life - life on Earth - to extrapolate from."

Past approaches in the field of astrobiology had been largely mechanistic, taking what we see on Earth, and what we know about chemistry, geology and physics to make predictions about aliens, he explained.

"In our paper, we offer an alternative approach, which is to use evolutionary theory to make predictions that are independent of Earth's details.

"This is a useful approach, because theoretical predictions will apply to aliens that are silicon-based, do not have DNA, and breathe nitrogen, for example."

Using this idea of alien natural selection as a framework, the team addressed extraterrestrial evolution, and how complexity will arise in space.

These illustrations represent different levels of adaptive complexity we might imagine when thinking about aliens. (a) A simple replicating molecule, with no apparent design. This may or may not undergo natural selection. (b) An incredibly simple, cell-like entity. Even something this simple has sufficient contrivance of parts that it must undergo natural selection. (c) An alien with many intricate parts working together is likely to have undergone major transitions. Photo / Helen S. Cooper
These illustrations represent different levels of adaptive complexity we might imagine when thinking about aliens. (a) A simple replicating molecule, with no apparent design. This may or may not undergo natural selection. (b) An incredibly simple, cell-like entity. Even something this simple has sufficient contrivance of parts that it must undergo natural selection. (c) An alien with many intricate parts working together is likely to have undergone major transitions. Photo / Helen S. Cooper

Species complexity had increased on Earth as a result of a handful of events, known as major transitions.

These transitions occurred when a group of separate organisms evolved into a higher-level organism - when cells become multi-cellular organisms, for example.

Both theory and empirical data suggest that extreme conditions are required for major transitions to occur.

The paper also made specific predictions about the biological make-up of complex aliens, and offers a degree of insight as to what they might look like.

"We still can't say whether aliens will walk on two legs or have big green eyes," Levin said.

"But we believe evolutionary theory offers a unique additional tool for trying to understand what aliens will be like, and we have shown some examples of the kinds of strong predictions we can make with it.

"By predicting that aliens have undergone major transitions - which is how complexity has arisen in species on earth, we can say that there is a level of predictability to evolution that would cause them to look like us."

Like humans, researchers could predict that they were made-up of a hierarchy of entities, which all co-operated to produce an alien.

"At each level of the organism there will be mechanisms in place to eliminate conflict, maintain cooperation, and keep the organism functioning.

"We can even offer some examples of what these mechanisms will be.

"There are potentially hundreds of thousands of habitable planets in our galaxy alone.

"We can't say whether or not we're alone on Earth, but we have taken a small step forward in answering, if we're not alone, what our neighbours are like."