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Wandering minds: the default network and stimulus-independent thought

By Malia F. Mason, Michael I. Norton, John D. Van Horn, Daniel M. Wegner, Scott T and C. Neil Macrae

Abstract

Despite evidence pointing to a ubiquitous tendency of human minds to wander, little is known about the neural operations that support this core component of human cognition. Using both thought sampling and brain imaging, the current investigation demonstrated that mind-wandering is associated with activity in a default network of cortical regions that are active when the brain is “at rest. ” In addition, individuals ’ reports of the tendency of their minds to wander were correlated with activity in this network. What does the mind do in the absence of external demands for thought? Is it essentially blank, springing into action only when some task requires attention? Everyday experience challenges this account of mental life. In the absence of a task that requires deliberative processing, the mind generally tends to wander, flitting from one thought to the next with fluidity and ease (1,2). Given the ubiquitous nature of this phenomenon (3), it has been suggested that mindwandering constitutes a psychological baseline from which people depart when attention is required elsewhere and to which they return when tasks no longer require conscious supervision (4,5). But how does the brain spontaneously produce the images, voices, thoughts, and feeling

Year: 2007
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