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Front Hum Neurosci. 2011 Jun 6;5:56. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2011.00056. eCollection 2011.

Towards a neuroscience of mind-wandering.

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Functional Brain Center, Wohl Institute for Advanced Imaging, Tel-Aviv Sourasky Medical Center Tel-Aviv, Israel.


Mind-wandering (MW) is among the most robust and permanent expressions of human conscious awareness, classically regarded by philosophers, clinicians, and scientists as a core element of an intact sense of self. Nevertheless, the scientific exploration of MW poses unique challenges; MW is by nature a spontaneous, off task, internal mental process which is often unaware and usually difficult to control, document or replicate. Consequently, there is a lack of accepted modus operandi for exploring MW in a laboratory setup, leading to a relatively small amount of studies regarding the neural basis of MW. In order to facilitate scientific examination of MW the current review categorizes recent literature into five suggested strategies. Each strategy represents a different methodology of MW research within functional neuroimaging paradigms. Particular attention is paid to resting-state brain activity and to the "default-mode" network. Since the default network is known to exert high activity levels during off-task conditions, it stands out as a compelling candidate for a neuro-biological account of mind-wandering, in itself a rest-based phenomenon. By summarizing the results within and across strategies we suggest further insights into the neural basis and adaptive value of MW, a truly intriguing and unique human experience.


default-mode network; fMRI; mind-wandering; neuroimaging; resting state; self; stimulus independent thought; task independent thought

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