Impact Factor

Hypothesis & Theory ARTICLE

Front. Psychol., 01 July 2013 | http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00373

Absent without leave; a neuroenergetic theory of mind wandering

  • Department of Psychology, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, USA

Absent minded people are not under the control of task-relevant stimuli. According to the Neuroenergetics Theory of attention (NeT), this lack of control is often due to fatigue of the relevant processing units in the brain caused by insufficient resupply of the neuron's preferred fuel, lactate, from nearby astrocytes. A simple drift model of information processing accounts for response-time statistics in a paradigm often used to study inattention, the Sustained Attention to Response Task (SART). It is suggested that errors and slowing in this fast-paced, response-engaging task may have little to due with inattention. Slower-paced and less response-demanding tasks give greater license for inattention—aka absent-mindedness, mind-wandering. The basic NeT is therefore extended with an ancillary model of attentional drift and recapture. This Markov model, called NEMA, assumes probability λ of lapses of attention from 1 s to the next, and probability α of drifting back to the attentional state. These parameters measure the strength of attraction back to the task (α), or away to competing mental states or action patterns (λ); their proportion determines the probability of the individual being inattentive at any point in time over the long run. Their values are affected by the fatigue of the brain units they traffic between. The deployment of the model is demonstrated with a data set involving paced responding.

Keywords: ADHD, attentional lapses, attractors, Markov model, response times, Wald distribution

Citation: Killeen PR (2013) Absent without leave; a neuroenergetic theory of mind wandering. Front. Psychol. 4:373. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00373

Received: 07 May 2013; Accepted: 06 June 2013;
Published online: 01 July 2013.

Edited by:

Sven-Erik Fernaeus, Karolinska Institutet, Sweden

Reviewed by:

Sven-Erik Fernaeus, Karolinska Institutet, Sweden
James A. Cheyne, University of Waterloo, Canada

Copyright © 2013 Killeen. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in other forums, provided the original authors and source are credited and subject to any copyright notices concerning any third-party graphics etc.

*Correspondence: Peter R. Killeen, Department of Psychology, Arizona State University, 1070 W. Village Way, Tempe, AZ 85282-4441, USA e-mail: killeen@asu.edu