During downtime, some of us daydream while others might focus on a to-do list, or get stuck in a negative loop. Psychology has traditionally defined all these thought patterns as variations of “mind-wandering.”
But a review of brain imaging studies led by researchers at UC Berkeley and the University of British Columbia offers a new way of looking at spontaneous versus controlled thinking, challenging the adage that a wandering mind is an unhappy mind.
It suggests that increased awareness of how our thoughts move when our brains are at rest could lead to better diagnoses and targeted treatments for such mental illnesses as depression, anxiety and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
“It’s important to know not only the difference between free-ranging mind-wandering and sticky, obsessive thoughts, but also to understand, within this framework, how these types of thinking work together,” said review co-author Zachary Irving, a postdoctoral scholar at UC Berkeley.
Irving and fellow authors of the qualitative review, published in the November issue of Nature Reviews Neuroscience, looked at three different ways in which people think when they’re not directly engaged in tasks: spontaneous thought, ruminative thought and goal-directed thought.
“We propose that mind-wandering isn’t an odd quirk of the mind,” said the review’s…