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Trends Cogn Sci. 2011 Jul;15(7):319-26. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2011.05.006. Epub 2011 Jun 20.

Meta-awareness, perceptual decoupling and the wandering mind.

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Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, University of California Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, CA 93105, USA.


Mind wandering (i.e. engaging in cognitions unrelated to the current demands of the external environment) reflects the cyclic activity of two core processes: the capacity to disengage attention from perception (known as perceptual decoupling) and the ability to take explicit note of the current contents of consciousness (known as meta-awareness). Research on perceptual decoupling demonstrates that mental events that arise without any external precedent (known as stimulus independent thoughts) often interfere with the online processing of sensory information. Findings regarding meta-awareness reveal that the mind is only intermittently aware of engaging in mind wandering. These basic aspects of mind wandering are considered with respect to the activity of the default network, the role of executive processes, the contributions of meta-awareness and the functionality of mind wandering.

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