Archive for the ‘mind-wandering’ Tag

Daydreaming and Attention Lapses

It is common in many everyday situations to suddenly notice that, for some time, we have been focusing on thoughts and feelings that are unrelated to what we are doing. These often unintentional mental states are examples of daydreaming, attention lapses, or mind wandering. During mind wandering, performance of the primary task ceases to be supervised by our attention and, instead, proceeds automatically. Our attention switches from the primary task, and our private thoughts become the focus of awareness. Because mind wandering involves a focus on internal information, these episodes involve a state of decoupled processing, as indicated by its relation to encoding. The experience of catching mind wandering indicates that we often lack awareness that one is off task. The failure to recognize that one is off task suggests that mind wandering involves a temporary failure in the ability to reflect upon the content of one’s own mental state.

If we are unaware that we are off task, we cannot acknowledge that we are mind wandering. In the absence of awareness that one is mind wandering, we cannot instantiate the control processes necessary to remedy the consequences of off-task episodes on performance. However, if we are aware that we are mind wandering, our behavior becomes more flexible, because we can strategically account for some of the negative consequences of off-task experiences.

Thinking about thinking mean you are in a conscious state thinking about your situational awareness. It may not come intuitively or automatically for us to be consciously thinking about our situational awareness while fulfilling all our duties and responsibilities at an emergency scene, but if we are able to elevate awareness to the conscious level, then awareness becomes as important as anything else we may be doing or thinking about. Situational awareness is an individual’s ability to perceive clues and cues about what is happening in his or her environment and to understand the meaning of those clues and cues in the context of how time is passing and then be able to make accurate predictions about future events to avoid bad outcomes.


Default-Mode Network


If you haven't tried mindfulness meditation yet, you must. A new study by scientists at Yale and the University of Oregon just gave us another reason why. 

This new study looked at the special effects of mindfulness meditation practice on the brain state called the default-mode network.  The default-mode network has been shown to be vital in self-referencing; helping us shape our view of ‘who we are' and in mind-wandering.  While mind-wandering may be supportive sometimes; it is related to creativity when you are aware that you are mind-wandering, nearly every one of us mind-wander up to 50% of the time, and with no awareness that we are doing so.  This in consequence means we are not present with what we are doing for half our lives, in its place, our minds are drifting to other sorts of thoughts – doubts, rumination, opinions of the past or future, etc. 

Scientists have before shown that being in a mind-wandering state – instead of aware of present minute activities – is not such a joyful state. We are normally happier when we are not mind-wandering. The exemption to this is when we mind-wander to cheerful thoughts but we only do that about one third of the time; two-thirds of our mind-wandering thought content is stressful or neutral and that puts us in less happy moods. 

The new study investigates the brains of experienced meditations compared to non-meditators during three types of activities present in mindfulness meditation. The three activities are ‘concentration, for example, observing the breath; loving-kindness, for example, wishing oneself well like ‘may I be happy, may I be full of joy’, and ‘choiceless awareness' that is being aware of any thought, feeling or body sensation – noticing it arise and disappear.  Using brain functional magnetic resonance imaging techniques, the study found clear differences in the brains of the meditators compared to controls. 

1. The default-mode network was less activated in meditators and they reported less mind wandering.  The finding seems to extend to the meditators whether they were meditating or just lying still or in resting state.  Given other evidence that mindfulness improves mood, this finding suggests that reducing activation of default-mode network may be part of the reason mindfulness increases happiness. 

2. There was increased connectivity of different parts of the default-mode network in meditators than controls.  This means that the cabling between regions that make up the default-mode network look different between the two groups.  It proposes that mindfulness practice increases associations between key default-mode network regions, possibly making the system enhanced in communication.  It is similar to an orchestra with the different pieces – string, horn, etc. – being more in tune with one another. 

The study desires duplication as it was based on a small group of subjects (12 meditators/13 controls) but findings are dependable with other research that has shown alterations in brain regions involved in the default-mode network with meditation – both structurally and functionally. 

Mindfulness is a state of awareness of present experience with curiosity or acceptance.  There are now a wide range of exercises to increase mindfulness, many drawn from the over 2500 years of ‘research and development' carried out largely in Buddhist settings. These ancient exercises have been translated into ones appropriate for use in secular settings and are now being used and studied in institutions around the world from business to medicine to law to education. 

It's best to try mindfulness meditation and discover the benefits yourself, but remember; there is science out there to tell you how and why it works. 


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