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Front Psychol. 2013 Dec 18;4:891. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00891. eCollection 2013.

The era of the wandering mind? Twenty-first century research on self-generated mental activity.

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Centre for Medical Humanities and Department of Geography, Durham University Durham, UK.
Department of Social Neuroscience, Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences Leipzig, Germany.
Max Planck Research Group: Neuroanatomy and Connectivity, Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences Leipzig, Germany.


The first decade of the twenty-first century was characterized by renewed scientific interest in self-generated mental activity (activity largely generated by the individual, rather than in direct response to experimenters' instructions or specific external sensory inputs). To understand this renewal of interest, we interrogated the peer-reviewed literature from 2003 to 2012 (i) to explore recent changes in use of terms for self-generated mental activity; (ii) to investigate changes in the topics on which mind wandering research, specifically, focuses; and (iii) to visualize co-citation communities amongst researchers working on self-generated mental activity. Our analyses demonstrated that there has been a dramatic increase in the term "mind wandering" from 2006, and a significant crossing-over of psychological investigations of mind wandering into cognitive neuroscience (particularly in relation to research on the default mode and default mode network). If our article concludes that this might, indeed, be the "era of the wandering mind," it also calls for more explicit reflection to be given by researchers in this field to the terms they use, the topics and brain regions they focus on, and the research literatures that they implicitly foreground or ignore.


citation mapping; daydreaming; history of cognitive neuroscience; history of psychology; mind wandering; self-generated; stimulus independent thought; task-unrelated thought

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