Where does our mind wander? Brain waves can show the way

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Anyone who has tried to meditate and failed, knows that our minds are still hardly there. But where do they roam? New research led by UC Berkeley has come up with a way to track the flow of our internal thought processes and indicate whether our brains are focused, fine, or wandering.

Using an electroencephalogram (EEG) to measure brain activity when people perform mundane meditation tasks, researchers identified brain signals that indicate when the mind is not focused on the task at hand or aimless Is wandering, especially after focusing on an assignment.

Specifically, increased alpha brain waves were detected in the prefrontal cortex of more than two dozen study participants when their thoughts jumped from one subject to another, providing an electrophysiological signature for unconstitutional, innate thought . Alpha waves are slow brain rhythms that have a frequency of 9 to 14 cycles per second.

Meanwhile, a weak brain signal known as P3 was seen in the parietal cortex, further offering a neural marker for when people are not paying attention to the task at hand.

“For the first time, we have neurophysiological evidence that distinguishes different patterns of internal thought, allowing us to understand the varieties of thoughtful central to human cognition and to make comparisons between healthy and disorganized thinking,” the study’s senior Said author Robert Knight, a UC Berkeley professor of psychology and neuroscience.

Conclusion, published this week Proceedings of the National Academy of Science The magazine suggests, tuning our external environment and allowing our internal thoughts to move freely and creatively is an essential function of the brain and can promote relaxation and exploration.

Furthermore, how EEG markers flow our thoughts when our brains are relaxed can help researchers and clinicians detect some patterns of thinking before patients know where their brains are wandering .

“It can help detect thought patterns associated with a spectrum of psychiatric and attention disorders and help diagnose them,” said Julia Kam, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Calgary. She began studies at Knight’s Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory at UC Berkeley as a postdoctoral researcher.

Another co-author on the paper is Zachary Irving, an assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Virginia, who explored the psychological and philosophical underpinnings of mind-wandering as a postdoctoral scholar at UC Berkeley.

“If you focus on your goals all the time, you can miss important information. And so, an independent-consistency thought process that randomly generates memories and imaginative experiences will give you new ideas and insights. Can lead to, ”said Irving, whose philosophical theory of mind wandering shaped the methodology of study.

Irving worked with Allison Gopnik, a UC Berkeley developmental psychologist and philosophy scholar, who is also the study’s co-author.

“The minds of children and young children constantly wander, and so we thought about what actions might be done”, Gopnik said. “Our paper suggests that mind wandering is a positive feature of cognition in the form of quirky and explains something that we all experience.”

For study preparation, 39 adults were taught to distinguish between four different categories: work-related, moving freely, being deliberately constrained, and automatically constrained.

Next, while wearing electrodes on their heads that measured their brain activity, they sat on a computer screen and tapped the left or right arrow keys to match the left and right arrows that appear in random sequences on the screen. Were.

When they completed a sequence, they were asked to rate on a scale of one to seven – whether their thoughts during the task were related to the task, moving independently, intentionally constrained or automatically constrained.

An example of unrelated and freely moving ideas for work would be if a student, instead of studying for an upcoming exam, found himself thinking about whether he had achieved a good grade on an assignment , Then realized that he had not prepared dinner yet, and then wondered if he should exercise more, and reminiscing about his last vacation, Kama said.

The responses to questions about thought processes were then divided into four groups and matched against recorded brain activity.

When study participants reported thoughts that moved independently of the subject, they increased alpha wave activity in the frontal cortex of the brain, a pattern associated with the generation of creative thoughts. Researchers also found evidence for reduced P3 brain signals during off-task thoughts.

“The ability to detect our thought patterns through brain activity is an important step towards generating potential strategies for regulating our thoughts over time, a strategy useful for healthy and disorganized brains,” Kama said.

Wandering understanding can shed light on mental illness

more information:
Julia Y. Kam et al., Typical electrophysiological signatures of task-unrelated and dynamic thoughts, PNAS January 26, 2021 118 (4) e2011796118; doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2011796118

Provided by University of California – Berkeley

Quotes: Where do our minds wander? Brain waves can indicate the route (2021, January 19) Retrieved January 20, 2021, from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2021-01-minds-brain.html

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