Are You an Absent-Minded Introvert? Research Suggests You Might Be a Genius

IntrovertDear.com absent-minded introvert genius

It’s just one of those days when I have to have a mocha.

I pull into the Starbucks drive-thru. There are a dozen cars waiting in a long line. My mind flies away, thinking about a novel I want to write. I don’t even notice how long I’m idling in line, slowly inching forward.

Suddenly I’m at the pick-up window. Wait, did I even order?

Nope. I completely blew past the ordering box, lost in the plot twists of my book. The man who appears at the window is gracious about it, but I end up sheepishly holding up the whole line.

This isn’t the first time something like this has happened. Once, one of my roommates picked up my eye glasses off the counter. “Are these yours?” she asked. I took one look at them and definitively stated, “Nope!” It took me a day of examining them to realize that they were, indeed, mine.

As an introvert, my mind is often elsewhere. And recent research suggests that may actually be a good thing.

Why Introverts Can Be So Absent-Minded

First, let’s be clear about what an introvert is: someone with a preference for quiet, less stimulating environments.

It’s not uncommon for introverts to get the reputation of both “the wise one” and “the absent-minded professor.” Many introverts are deep-thinkers. We puzzle things out internally, turning issues over and over in our minds. We feel at home in our inner world, daydreaming and reflecting. Mentally, we tend not to give up easily. It’s like what Albert Einstein, an introvert, once noted: “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.”

Our brains reflect our penchant for deep-processing. A study found that introverts have larger, thicker gray matter in their prefrontal cortex, which is the part of the brain associated with decision-making and abstract thought. Extroverts, by comparison, have thinner gray matter in the same area. This could mean that introverts devote more mental resources to abstract thought, while extroverts are more prone to living in the moment.

Our deep thinking is a gift. But it also means we sometimes get lost in our heads.

The brain can only juggle so many tasks at one time. In fact, multitasking isn’t even real. You may think that you’re multitasking, but in reality, your mind is rapidly switching between tasks. Your brain can really only do one thing at a time — like either order Starbucks or plan your novel.

No wonder when introverts turn inward, we become a bit air-headed. If only I had a portable sign that said, “Processing, please wait.”

Not every introvert suffers from this problem. My roommate in the above-mentioned scenario is an introvert who is impeccable with details. Hardly a thing escapes her sharp eye. In fact, after only seeing my glasses once, she kept insisting that they were mine.

And being absent-minded isn’t exclusively an introvert problem. I know some extroverts who lose things, zone out, and are forgetful, too. In my experience, the root cause is generally different. Extroverts are absent-minded because they are already moving on to the next thing. Introverts are absent-minded because they are lost in their heads.

It’s us intuitive, day-dreamy introverts who suffer from air-headed syndrome the most.

Absent-Minded People May Be Geniuses

Dr. Matt Taylor is the man behind the Rosetta space mission. He helped land a probe on a speeding comet 300 million miles away from Earth. This important accomplishment may help answer the big questions about the origins of life. His own family describes him as brilliant.

Sometimes he can’t find his car in a parking lot.

He’s also been described as “useless” at times and “lacking common sense.”

Similarly, Einstein got lost on a trip to Princeton, New Jersey. According to Dr. Michael Woodley, Einstein went into a store and said, “Hi, I’m Einstein, can you take me home please?” The brilliant scientist couldn’t drive a car, and many of the small, everyday things that most people take for granted were beyond him.

According to Dr. Woodley, there may be a link between absent-mindedness and genius. He believes that people who are considered geniuses have brains that are wired to be unable to deal with small details.

Geniuses are “literally not hardwired to be able to learn those kind of tasks,” Dr. Woodley told The Telegraph. “Every time they attempt to allocate the effort into dealing with the mundanities in life they’re constitutionally resisted; their brains are not capable of processing things at that low level.”

Similarly, researchers found that children who daydream, seem distracted, and are absent-minded may actually be smarter than those who aren’t. According to the researchers, their working memory may have greater capacity, perhaps giving them a stronger ability to juggle several tasks at once.

Not all introverts are geniuses (although some certainly are). But the next time you zone out, get lost in your head, or forget something, remember that you’re in good company. It might just be your inner brilliance shinning through. 

You might like:

Did you enjoy this article? Sign up for our newsletters to get more stories like this.

Jenn Granneman is the founder of IntrovertDear.com and the author of The Secret Lives of Introverts: Inside Our Hidden World. She also cohosts The Introvert, Dear Podcast and blogs for Psychology Today. For most of her life, Jenn felt weird, different, and out of place because of her quiet ways. She writes about introversion because she doesn’t want other introverts to feel the way she did.