If you think your mind stops wandering when you’re doing nothing, think again.
Canadian researchers have developed a new framework for understanding how human thoughts flow, even at rest and thus help people with various mental illness like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Mind-wandering is typically characterised as thoughts that stray from what you’re doing.
“Mind-wandering is not an odd quirk of the mind. Rather, it’s something that the mind does when it enters into a spontaneous mode. Without this spontaneous mode, we couldn’t do things like dream or think creatively,” said lead author Kalina Christoff, Professor at University of British Columbia, Canada.
The study published in the journal Nature Reviews Neuroscience proposed that the flow of thoughts is grounded in the interaction between different brain networks and flows freely when the mind is in its default state – mind-wandering. Yet two types of constraints – one automatic and the other deliberate – can curtail this spontaneous movement of thoughts.
However, spontaneous thought processes – including mind wandering, but also creative thinking and dreaming – arise when thoughts are relatively free from these deliberate and automatic constraints, the researchers said.
“Understanding what makes thought free and what makes it constrained is crucial because it can help us understand how thoughts move in the minds of those diagnosed with mental illness,” Christoff said.
“Everyone’s mind has a natural ebb and flow of thought, but our framework reconceptualises disorders like ADHD, depression and anxiety as extensions of that normal variation in thinking,” added Zachary Irving, postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, Berkeley.
According to Irving, “We all have someone with anxiety and ADHD in our minds. The anxious mind helps us focus on what’s personally important, whereas the ADHD mind allows us to think freely and creatively.”