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Front. Hum. Neurosci., 06 June 2011 | http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2011.00056

Towards a neuroscience of mind-wandering

Michal Gruberger1,2, Eti Ben-Simon1,3, Yechiel Levkovitz3,4, Abraham Zangen5 and Talma Hendler1,2,3*
  • 1 Functional Brain Center, Wohl Institute for Advanced Imaging, Tel-Aviv Sourasky Medical Center, Tel-Aviv, Israel
  • 2 Department of Psychology, Tel-Aviv University, Tel-Aviv, Israel
  • 3 Faculty of Medicine, Tel-Aviv University, Tel-Aviv, Israel
  • 4 The Emotion-Cognition Research Center, Shalvata Mental Health Center, Hod-Hasharon, Israel
  • 5 Department of Neurobiology, Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, 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.

Keywords: mind-wandering, default-mode network, self, resting state, neuroimaging, fMRI, task independent thought, stimulus independent thought

Citation: Gruberger M, Ben-Simon E, Levkovitz Y, Zangen A and Hendler T (2011) Towards a neuroscience of mind-wandering. Front. Hum. Neurosci. 5:56. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2011.00056

Received: 08 January 2011; Accepted: 25 May 2011;
Published online: 06 June 2011.

Edited by:

Russell A. Poldrack, University of California, USA

Reviewed by:

Georg Northoff, University of Ottawa, Canada
Jonathan Smallwood, Max Plank Institute for Brain and Cognition, Germany

Copyright: © 2011 Gruberger, Ben-Simon, Levkovitz, Zangen and Hendler. This is an open-access article subject to a non-exclusive license between the authors and Frontiers Media SA, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in other forums, provided the original authors and source are credited and other Frontiers conditions are complied with.

*Correspondence: Talma Hendler, Functional Brain Center, Wohl Institute for Advanced Imaging, Tel-Aviv Sourasky Medical Center, 6 Weizmann Street, Tel-Aviv 64239, Israel. e-mail: talma@tasmc.health.gov.il