Random Thoughts of a Wandering Mind: Musings From a Lifetime of Being Half Smart

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When mind wandering, we are also likely to reflect upon ourselves. This process of thinking about how we think, behave, and interact with others around us is a crucial part of our self-identity. Mind wandering has also been tied to creative problem-solving. However, mind wandering can also have negative outcomes.

For example, mind wandering in class means you miss out on what is being taught, and mind wandering while doing your homework may result in mistakes. Taken to an extreme, people who are diagnosed with depression constantly engage in their own thoughts about their problems or other negative experiences.

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Taken together, whether mind wandering is good or bad depends on when we mind wander and what we mind wander about [ 1 ]. If you were to conduct an experiment, how would you measure mind wandering? Scientists have come up with several methods, one of which is called experience sampling. As research volunteers are doing a computer task in a laboratory, or as they are doing chores in their day-to-day lives, they are asked at random intervals to report their attention state.

Scientists also study mind wandering by recording electroencephalogram EEG , a test that measures the electrical activity of the brain. This electrical activity, which looks like wavy lines during an EEG recording see Figure 2 , Step 2 , is observed in all parts of the brain and is present throughout the day, even when we are asleep.

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  5. In order to record EEG, scientists place special sensors called electrodes on the scalp of a volunteer Figure 2 , Step 1 , with each electrode recording activity of numerous neurons brain cells in the area under the electrode Figure 2 , Step 2. Some commonly seen peaks and troughs are assigned specific names as ERP components.

    The size of the ERP components measured in voltage reflects how strong the response is, while the timing of these ERP components measured in milliseconds reflects the timing of the response. And as you may realize now, when we are asked about our current attention state, we can quite accurately report it. This hypothesis assumes that the brain has a certain amount of resources, which means that once mind wandering has used the resources it needs to focus on our thoughts, only a limited amount of brain resources remains for responding to our surrounding environment.

    To test this hypothesis, scientists combined experience sampling with EEG to explore how mind wandering affects our interaction with the environment. One of the first studies to test this hypothesis asked research volunteers to categorize a series of images by responding whenever they saw rare targets e. This can be seen in Figure 3A , where there is a smaller P ERP component during mind wandering the green lines compared with the P ERP component during the time when the volunteer was on task the gray line.

    Have you ever noticed that if your mind wanders while you are doing homework, you are more likely to make mistakes? Many experiments have also shown that this happens! This led some scientists to question what is happening in the brain when we make mistakes. They specifically measured something called the feedback error-related negativity ERP component, which gives scientists an idea of how closely we are monitoring the accuracy of our responses when we perform a task.

    The scientists found that the feedback error-related negativity ERP component was reduced during mind wandering compared with on-task periods, as shown in Figure 3B. This suggests that mind wandering negatively affects our ability to monitor our performance and adjust our behavior, making it more likely that we will make mistakes [ 4 ]. All of these studies provide evidence supporting the hypothesis that when the mind wanders, our responses to what is going on in the environment around us are disrupted. At this point, you may wonder: are all responses to the world around us impaired during mind wandering?

    This seems unlikely, because we are usually quite capable of responding to the external environment even when we mind wander. For example, even though we may mind wander a lot while walking, most of us rarely bump into things as we walk from place to place. A group of scientists asked the same question and looked specifically at whether we can still pay attention to our environment at some level even when we are mind wandering.

    To test this question, research volunteers were asked to read a book while they were listening to some tones unrelated to the book. Most of the tones were identical, but among these identical tones was rare and different tone that naturally grabbed the attention of the volunteers. These scientists found that the volunteers paid just as much attention to this rare tone when they were mind wandering compared to when they were on task.

    From Genius to Madness

    In other words, our minds appear to be quite smart about which attention processes to disrupt and which processes to preserve during mind wandering. Under normal circumstances, our minds ignore some of the ordinary events in our environment in order for us to maintain a train of thought.

    However, when an unexpected event occurs in the environment, one that is potentially dangerous, our brain knows to shift our attention to the external environment so that we can respond to the potentially dangerous event. Imagine walking down the street and thinking about the movie you want to watch this weekend. While doing this, you may not clearly perceive the noise of the car engines or the pedestrians chatting around you.

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    Greta's Musings and Random Thoughts

    Usually, it wants to skip and hop, Ed-in-et, which is how I prefer it. When meeting people for the first time, long Edinette and snappy Edinette make their appearance, though skip and hop Edinette does not show up until much later. I understand, I am like that, too, a little shy to reveal myself.

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    It is intimidating to hear my name and it not be my name. My name has no meaning; it does not mean strength or hope.

    A Wandering Mind is an Unhappy One

    It does not mean innocence or grace. Its meaning is that I may assign significance to it however I choose. Edinette means wonder and whimsy, as I am in constant pursuit of something fascinating. If it were a color it would be aqua; blue but not sad-blue, more ocean-blue, which is ironic because I have a fear of drowning. Edinette is that still period between slumber and consciousness where it feels like you are floating in bed. My name would be curled up on the couch with a cup of tea on a beautiful day because although my name seems bold and daring, it prefers to live simply.

    But if I could have an alter ego, I would name myself Lulu. Not short for Louise or Lourdes. Who is bold and French, strong like coffee. Cheers to the New Year! London Life , Random Musings. I currently am in this limbo where I am excited for my trip but also in great fear of the changes about to come. This trip is the flagship moment in my life where I am going to experience independence in full-force.

    Will I accomplish everything on this list? Maybe, maybe not. I use to loath writing in all of its forms. I never thought I needed to put to paper what I had in my head. It felt like the constant chaos inside of my noggin was there to stay.

    Worrying about what I needed to get done, remembering to buy milk, making sure I knew the formula for the math test…suppressing all of my feelings about all the craziness of life in general. I turned to reading to help cope with my anxiety. I found comfort in the words of others, especially when they were able to articulate how I was feeling. In My Closet , Random Musings. July 28, No Comments. Continue Reading. July 15, No Comments. I care a lot. February 4, No Comments.

    February 3, No Comments. January 2, No Comments. November 19, No Comments.

    Frontiers for Young Minds

    The good bits, I promise! I can only hope that I can inspire another young person, just as Miss Honey inspired Matilda. I relate to Matilda quite a bit, as growing up, being a bookworm was not applauded, but teased about. So as people grow up, they also grow out of dreaming, conforming to this bland mold that society presents them. Sometimes you have to be a little bit naughty. September 1, No Comments. I hope I get comfortable enough with the city that other people will think to ask me for directions! Make at least one friend that is a London native.

    Try to establish a friendship that will last even when I come back stateside. Go exploring by myself at least once a week. Go to at least one concert or show. Try one food item that scares me. Become sufficient in riding the Tube. See the Queen. July 3, 4 Comments. June 27, No Comments.