What happens when the mind wanders?

January 18, 2007
What happens when the mind wanders?

Scientists have discovered what happens in the brain when the mind wanders. Until recently, little has been known about the neural mechanisms that give the mind its ability to daydream.

But now psychologists and neuroscientists in Aberdeen and America have revealed that a collection of areas in the brain termed the default network, supports what is known as mind wandering.

The findings are published today in top journal Science.

The scientists carried out their research with the help of volunteers whose brains were scanned as they performed simple memory tasks.

The results revealed that when participants performed practised tasks with which they were familiar, activity in regions of the default network was associated with episodes of mind wandering, a finding that underscores the importance of this system in guiding the stream of consciousness.

Professor Neil Macrae, Chair of Psychology at the University of Aberdeen, said: "Mind wandering has perplexed scholars for centuries, both in terms of its neural basis and psychological significance.

"For example, what happens in the brain during an over-learned or boring task when the mind spontaneously flits from thought to thought.

"The current work serves as an initial step in identifying the neural operations that support this core component of human cognition."

Quite why the mind wanders at all however remains open to debate.

Professor Macrae added: "One possibility is that mind wandering, as a form of spontaneous mental time travel, reflecting on the past, planning for the future, lends a sense of coherence to one's past, present and future experiences, enabling one to make effective choices and decisions."

The paper in Science entitled Wandering Minds: The Default Network and Stimulus-Independent Thought was a collaboration involving the University of Aberdeen; Dartmouth College, Hanover, USA and Harvard University, USA.

Source: University of Aberdeen

Explore further: Chameleons' eyes are not so independent

Related Stories

Chameleons' eyes are not so independent

July 8, 2015

Famed for their ability to change colour, chameleons have yet another mind-boggling talent: their eyes appear to swivel completely independently. This means that they can simultaneously track two completely different views ...

How mathematics reveals the nature of the cosmos

June 8, 2015

Let us discuss the very nature of the cosmos. What you may find in this discussion is not what you expect. Going into a conversation about the universe as a whole, you would imagine a story full of wondrous events such as ...

Recommended for you

Machine Translates Thoughts into Speech in Real Time

December 21, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- By implanting an electrode into the brain of a person with locked-in syndrome, scientists have demonstrated how to wirelessly transmit neural signals to a speech synthesizer. The "thought-to-speech" process ...

Quantum Theory May Explain Wishful Thinking

April 14, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Humans don’t always make the most rational decisions. As studies have shown, even when logic and reasoning point in one direction, sometimes we chose the opposite route, motivated by personal bias or simply ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.