Day Dreaming Explained

The most difficult task while sitting for meditation is to bring the wandering mind to focus on a single thing, like the breath or a mantra. Usually when you attempt these things the mind will go back into the past or future and start pondering various useless questions. Scientists have now found the neural mechanism which causes the mind to wander.

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.

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. [What happens when the mind wanders?]

The default network are those parts of the brain that is active when you don’t need to concentrate and this day dreaming is the brain’s default setting.

He says that the new work suggests that activity in the default network is necessary to generate spontaneous thoughts and adds to evidence that it makes an important contribution to our inner life. In one published case study, Raichle notes, a woman who suffered damage to part of the default network initiated almost no spontaneous thoughts. “Her mind was empty,” Raichle says.

The study leaves open the question of why minds wander, says Jonathan Schooler, a psychologist at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. Schooler suspects that mental rambling is generally beneficial. “A lot of the time, people are thinking about worries or problems that they need to work out,” Schooler says, adding that creative insights often happen during these episodes. The new study could be a big help to researchers if it leads to a way to use fMRI to detect mind wandering without interrupting an experimental subject, Schooler says.[Peering Inside the Wandering Mind]

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