The Default Mode Network of the Brain Underlies Mind Wandering

The Default Mode Network of the Brain Underlies Mind Wandering

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“the brain appears to support mind wandering by disrupting some of the brain processes that are involved in responding to our surrounding external environment.” – Julia Kam

 

We spend a tremendous amount of waking time with our minds wandering and not on the present environment or the task at hand. We daydream, plan for the future, review the past, ruminate on our failures, exalt in our successes. In fact, we spend almost half of our waking hours off task with our mind wandering. A system of the brain known as the Default Mode Network (DMN) becomes active during wind wandering and relatively quiet during focused on task behavior. Meditation is known to reduce the size, connectivity, and activity of the Default Mode Network (DMN).

 

In today’s Research News article “Lesion network mapping demonstrates that mind-wandering is associated with the default mode network.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7704688/ ) Philippi and colleagues recruited patients with circumscribed brain injuries (lesions) and age and education matched non-brain damaged comparison participants. They all underwent brain scanning with Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). They completed a self-report measure of mind wandering.

 

They found that the brain damaged patients had lower frequencies of mind wandering than the healthy comparison participants. They then examined the specific brain areas damaged in the patients lesions and related it to their reduced mind wandering scores. They found that reduced mind wandering was associated with structures in the Default Mode Network (DMN), including the medial prefrontal cortex, parietal lobe, and inferior frontal gyrus.

 

The results are simple and straightforward and suggest that damage to the Default Mode Network (DMN) reduces mind wandering. This finding taken together with the findings that the DMN becomes more active during mind wandering makes a clear case that the DMN is responsible for mind wandering.

 

So, the default mode network of the brain underlies mind wandering.

 

mind-wandering was associated with increased DMN activity and increased DMN-VS connectivity.“ – Xinqi Zhou

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Philippi, C. L., Bruss, J., Boes, A. D., Albazron, F. M., Deifelt Streese, C., Ciaramelli, E., Rudrauf, D., & Tranel, D. (2021). Lesion network mapping demonstrates that mind-wandering is associated with the default mode network. Journal of neuroscience research, 99(1), 361–373. https://doi.org/10.1002/jnr.24648

 

Abstract

Functional neuroimaging research has consistently associated brain structures within the default mode network (DMN) and frontoparietal network (FPN) with mind-wandering. Targeted lesion research has documented impairments in mind-wandering after damage to the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) and hippocampal regions associated with the DMN. However, no lesion studies to date have applied lesion network mapping to identify common networks associated with deficits in mind-wandering. In lesion network mapping, resting-state functional connectivity data from healthy participants are used to infer which brain regions are functionally connected to each lesion location from a sample with brain injury. In the current study, we conducted a lesion network mapping analysis to test the hypothesis that lesions affecting the DMN and FPN would be associated with diminished mind-wandering. We assessed mind-wandering frequency on the Imaginal Processes Inventory (IPI) in participants with brain injury (n = 29) and healthy comparison participants without brain injury (n = 19). Lesion network mapping analyses showed the strongest association of reduced mind-wandering with the left inferior parietal lobule within the DMN. In addition, traditional lesion symptom mapping results revealed that reduced mind-wandering was associated with lesions of the dorsal, ventral, and anterior sectors of mPFC, parietal lobule, and inferior frontal gyrus in the DMN (p < 0.05 uncorrected). These findings provide novel lesion support for the role of the DMN in mind-wandering and contribute to a burgeoning literature on the neural correlates of spontaneous cognition.

Significance

Adults spend up to 50% of their waking day mind-wandering, which is the process of turning one’s attention inward to focus on self-generated thoughts or feelings. Mind-wandering can have both costs and benefits, such as increased negative mood or enhanced creative problem-solving. In this study, we report novel findings linking reduced mind-wandering with brain injury located within the default mode network. This work is important because it can help us to determine which brain networks are necessary for self-generated cognition, which may improve our understanding of neuropsychiatric conditions associated with altered self-focused thought.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7704688/

 

Mind Wandering is Negatively Associated with Attention and Academic Success

Mind Wandering is Negatively Associated with Attention and Academic Success

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Mind-wandering–related deficits in performance have been observed in many contexts, most notably reading, tests of sustained attention, and tests of aptitude.” – Sara Briggs

 

We spend a tremendous amount of waking time with our minds wandering and not on the present environment or the task at hand. We daydream, plan for the future, review the past, ruminate on our failures, exalt in our successes. In fact, we spend almost half of our waking hours off task with our mind wandering. Mindfulness is the antithesis of mind wandering. When we’re mindful, we’re paying attention to what is occurring in the present moment. In fact, the more mindful we are the less the mind wanders and mindfulness training reduces mind wandering.

 

You’d think that if we spend so much time with the mind wandering it must be enjoyable. But, in fact research has shown that when our minds are wandering, we are actually less happy than when we are paying attention to what is at hand. There are times when mind wandering may be useful, especially in regard to planning and creative thinking. But, for the most part, it interferes with our concentration on the present moment and what we’re doing and makes us unhappy. There is budding research interest in studying mind wandering and its effects upon academic success.

 

In today’s Research News article “Trait-Level Variability in Attention Modulates Mind Wandering and Academic Achievement.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7271744/ )  In the first of two experiments, Pereira and colleagues recruited participants online and had them complete measures of overall grade point average, levels of mind wandering, effortful control, orienting sensitivity, and negative emotions. They found that mind wandering was reported to occur 19% of the time. They found that the higher the levels of mind wandering, the lower the levels of effortful control and extraversion, but higher levels of negative emotions. They also found that for participants low in effortful control that mind wandering was associated with lower academic performance while for those high in effortful control mind wandering was associated with better academic performance.

 

In the first experiment they used a self-report measure of mind wandering. In the second experiment they employed an objective measure of mind wandering. They recruited college students and had them complete the same measures as in the first experiment. They then tested them with a visual metronome (tracking) task where response variation is an objective measure of mind wandering. Similar to experiment 1 they found that the higher the levels of mind wandering, the lower the levels of effortful control.

 

The results suggest that one of the key associations of mind wandering is with lower effortful control. Effortful control is a measure of the ability to focus attention. The measure involves agreement with statements such as “I can keep performing a task even when I would rather not do it.” Since the results are correlational it cannot be determined if mind wandering lowers effortful control or if effortful control lowers mind wandering. It will require a manipulative study to determine this. Regardless, the results suggest that mind wandering and effortful control are negatively related and that high effortful control appears to counteract the negative effect of mind wandering on academic performance.

 

Mindfulness training has been shown to be associated with lower mind wandering and better academic performance. It would be interesting to investigate the ability of mindfulness training to produce changes in effortful control and mind wandering and their relationship with academic performance.

 

So, mind wandering is negatively associated with attention and academic success.

 

mind wandering is related to lecture comprehension, reading, general academic ability, problem solving, and future planning.” – Amy Pachai

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Pereira, E. J., Gurguryan, L., & Ristic, J. (2020). Trait-Level Variability in Attention Modulates Mind Wandering and Academic Achievement. Frontiers in psychology, 11, 909. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.00909

 

Abstract

Although mind wandering remains ubiquitous in daily life, the processes that underlie and sustain this behavior remain poorly understood. Across two experiments, we studied the role of intrinsic temperament traits, which shape stable behavioral processes, in moderating the association between mind wandering and the real-life functional outcome of academic success. In Experiment 1, participants completed the Mind Wandering Questionnaire, the Adult Temperament Questionnaire, and reported their grade for the highest degree completed or in progress. Individuals with traits of low Effortful control, high Negative affect, and low Extraversion indicated more mind wandering. Effortful control moderated the relationship between mind wandering and academic success, with higher tendency for mind wandering associated with higher academic achievement for individuals with high Effortful control, and lower academic achievement for those with low Effortful control. Experiment 2 confirmed these links using the visual metronome response task, an objective measure of mind wandering. Together, these results suggest that the intrinsic temperament trait of Effortful control represents one of the key mechanisms behind the functional influence of mind wandering on real-life outcomes. This work places an innate ability to control attention at the very core of real life success, and highlights the need for studying mind wandering through an interdisciplinary lens that brings together cognitive, biological, social, and clinical theories in order to understand the fundamental mechanisms that drive this behavior.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7271744/

 

Mind Wandering is Associated with Poorer Mental Health and Greater Creative Thinking

Mind Wandering is Associated with Poorer Mental Health and Greater Creative Thinking

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

Mind-wandering in the sense of the mind moving freely from one idea to another has huge benefits in terms of arriving at new ideas. It’s by virtue of free movement that we generate new ideas, and that’s where creativity lies.” – Kalina Christoff

 

We spend a tremendous amount of waking time with our minds wandering and not on the present environment or the task at hand. We daydream, plan for the future, review the past, ruminate on our failures, exalt in our successes. In fact, we spend almost half of our waking hours off task with our mind wandering. Mindfulness is the antithesis of mind wandering. When we’re mindful, we’re paying attention to what is occurring in the present moment. In fact, the more mindful we are the less the mind wanders and mindfulness training reduces mind wandering.

 

You’d think that if we spend so much time with the mind wandering it must be enjoyable. But, in fact research has shown that when our minds are wandering, we are actually less happy than when we are paying attention to what is at hand. There are times when mind wandering may be useful, especially in regard to planning and creative thinking. But, for the most part, it interferes with our concentration on the present moment and what we’re doing and makes us unhappy. But mind wandering is also associated with creative thinking. So, it makes sense to look at the relationship of mind wandering with creative thought and mental illness.

 

In today’s Research News article “Mind wandering in creative problem-solving: Relationships with divergent thinking and mental health.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7180068/ ) Yamaoka and colleagues recruited college students and had them complete measures of creative (divergent) thinking, including fluency, flexibility, and originality subscales, depression, schizotypal personality, and mind wandering.

 

They found that the higher the levels of mind wandering, the higher the levels of divergent thinking, including fluency, flexibility, and originality subscales, and the higher the levels of depression and schizotypal personality. This was true with both bivariate and multiple linear correlations. People with schizotypal personality tend to be loners, have difficulty with relationships, and can display odd speech and behavior. These people also appear to have high levels of mind wandering. This along with the heightened depression suggests that mind wandering is associated with mental illness.

 

These results are correlational and as such causation cannot be determined. But these findings suggest that mind wandering is good news and bad news. The unusual thinking generated during mind wandering is associated with creativity. But at the same time, it is associated with poorer mental health. Mindfulness training reduces mind wandering and improves depression and mental illness suggesting that mindfulness training may be an antidote to the mental illness associated with mind wandering.

 

So, mind wandering is associated with poorer mental health and greater creative thinking.

 

A human mind is a wandering mind, and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind. The ability to think about what is not happening is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emotional cost.” – Matthew A. Killingsworth

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Yamaoka, A., & Yukawa, S. (2020). Mind wandering in creative problem-solving: Relationships with divergent thinking and mental health. PloS one, 15(4), e0231946. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0231946

 

Abstract

Previous research has shown that mind wandering has both positive and negative effects. Mind wandering may improve creative problem solving; however, it could also lead to negative moods and poor mental health. It has also been shown that some forms of mental illness are positively related to creativity. However, the three factors of mind wandering, divergent thinking, and mental health have not been examined simultaneously, so it is possible that these relationships are manifested by spurious correlations. Therefore, we examined the relations among the three factors while controlling for each of their confounding effects. We asked 865 participants (458 men, 390 women, 17 unknown; Mage = 18.99 years, SD = 1.16) to complete a questionnaire measuring mind wandering traits, divergent thinking, and mental health measures including depressive symptoms and schizotypal personality. Multiple regression analysis showed that people who reported more depressive symptoms, schizotypal personality, and divergent thinking, were more likely to engage in mind-wandering. Our results indicated that frequency of mind wandering was linked to a risk of poorer mental health as well as to higher divergent thinking ability. In future research, we will examine the features of mind wandering related to divergent thinking and mental health by considering the contents of wandering thoughts and whether they are ruminative or not. We also need to examine whether the same results will be found when studying professionals in creative occupations, and when using different scoring methods in divergent thinking tests.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7180068/

 

Unique Brain Activity Registers Internal Attentional States During Meditation

Unique Brain Activity Registers Internal Attentional States During Meditation

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Your brain is actually shaped by your thoughts and your behaviors. . . meditation can help boost attention and keep the brain sharp. . .  mindful breath awareness may improve attention and help curb impulsive behavior” – Grace Bullock

 

There has accumulated a large amount of research demonstrating that mindfulness has significant benefits for psychological, physical, and spiritual wellbeing. It even improves high level thinking known as executive function and emotion regulation and compassion. One of the primary effects of mindfulness training is an improvement in the ability to pay attention to the task at hand and ignore interfering stimuli. This is an important consequence of mindfulness training and produces improvements in thinking, reasoning, and creativity. The importance of heightened attentional ability to the individual’s ability to navigate the demands of complex modern life cannot be overstated. It helps in school, at work, in relationships, or simply driving a car. As important as attention is, it’s surprising that little is known about the mechanisms by which mindfulness improves attention.

 

There is evidence that mindfulness training improves attention by altering the brain. It appears That mindfulness training increases the size, connectivity, and activity of areas of the brain that are involved in paying attention. But there are various states of attention including meditation-related states: breath attention, mind wandering, and self-referential processing, and control states e.g. attention to feet and listening to ambient sounds. It is not known what changes occur in the brain during these five different modes and if they can be used to better discriminate the nature of attentional changes during meditation.

 

In today’s Research News article “Focus on the Breath: Brain Decoding Reveals Internal States of Attention During Meditation.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7483757/ ) Weng and colleagues recruited healthy adult meditators (at least 5 years of experience) and non-meditators. They were given a series of tasks while having their brains scanned with functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI). They were asked for 16-50 seconds to 1) pay attention to their breath, 2) let the mind wander, 3) think about past events, 4) pay attention to their feet, and 5) pay attention to ambient sounds. The 5 conditions were repeated multiple times in random orders. They then performed a 10-minute breath following meditation followed by a repeat of the premeditation tasks. Artificial intelligence was employed to determine unique neural activity associated with each of the 5 mental states for each participant.

 

They found unique individual brain activity patterns for each participant and could reliably distinguish different individual patterns for the 5 mental states. They then used these individualized patterns in an attempt to determine mental state during the breath focused meditation. They found that the individualized patterns identified for following the breath were present a greater percentage of time than the mind wandering or self-referential states when engaging in breath focused meditation. Further they found that the greater the amount of time for each participant in the breath following brain pattern the larger the rating by the participant of their engagement with breath following.

 

This was a proof of concept study. But it successfully demonstrated that unique individual patterns of brain activity can be identified for 5 mental states. These could be reliably differentiated. It also showed that these patterns could be used to identify breath following during breath following meditation. This suggests that this method may be used to identify mental states during ongoing meditation sessions. This could be a powerful research tool for future investigations of the mental states occurring during meditation.

 

So, unique brain activity registers internal attentional states during meditation.

 

Mindfulness training can help change patterns of brain activity because the synapses within these attentional networks can strengthen or weaken with use. So, join a mindful meditation class or download a mindful meditation app and train your brain to get out of the default mode network and be present!” – Mclean Bolton

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

Weng, H. Y., Lewis-Peacock, J. A., Hecht, F. M., Uncapher, M. R., Ziegler, D. A., Farb, N., Goldman, V., Skinner, S., Duncan, L. G., Chao, M. T., & Gazzaley, A. (2020). Focus on the Breath: Brain Decoding Reveals Internal States of Attention During Meditation. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 14, 336. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2020.00336

Abstract

Meditation practices are often used to cultivate interoception or internally-oriented attention to bodily sensations, which may improve health via cognitive and emotional regulation of bodily signals. However, it remains unclear how meditation impacts internal attention (IA) states due to lack of measurement tools that can objectively assess mental states during meditation practice itself, and produce time estimates of internal focus at individual or group levels. To address these measurement gaps, we tested the feasibility of applying multi-voxel pattern analysis (MVPA) to single-subject fMRI data to: (1) learn and recognize internal attentional states relevant for meditation during a directed IA task; and (2) decode or estimate the presence of those IA states during an independent meditation session. Within a mixed sample of experienced meditators and novice controls (N = 16), we first used MVPA to develop single-subject brain classifiers for five modes of attention during an IA task in which subjects were specifically instructed to engage in one of five states [i.e., meditation-related states: breath attention, mind wandering (MW), and self-referential processing, and control states: attention to feet and sounds]. Using standard cross-validation procedures, MVPA classifiers were trained in five of six IA blocks for each subject, and predictive accuracy was tested on the independent sixth block (iterated until all volumes were tested, N = 2,160). Across participants, all five IA states were significantly recognized well above chance (>41% vs. 20% chance). At the individual level, IA states were recognized in most participants (87.5%), suggesting that recognition of IA neural patterns may be generalizable for most participants, particularly experienced meditators. Next, for those who showed accurate IA neural patterns, the originally trained classifiers were applied to a separate meditation run (10-min) to make an inference about the percentage time engaged in each IA state (breath attention, MW, or self-referential processing). Preliminary group-level analyses demonstrated that during meditation practice, participants spent more time attending to breath compared to MW or self-referential processing. This paradigm established the feasibility of using MVPA classifiers to objectively assess mental states during meditation at the participant level, which holds promise for improved measurement of internal attention states cultivated by meditation.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7483757/

 

Support Creativity with Mindfulness

Support Creativity with Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

mindfulness meditation and other mindfulness practices enhance three essential skills necessary for creative problem solving. First, mindfulness switches on divergent thinking. In other words, meditation opens your mind to new ideas. Second, mindfulness practice improves attention and makes it easier to register the novelty and usefulness of ideas. And finally, mindfulness nurtures courage and resilience in the face of skepticism and setbacks, which is important because failure and setbacks are inextricably linked with any innovation process.” – Danny Penman

 

Creative solutions are unusual but appropriate and useful solutions to a problem. Problem solving most frequently involves logic and reasoning, sometimes along with mathematics. If logic and reason fail, then fanciful and out-of-the box thinking may be needed. In this case mind wandering, taking the thought process away from the failed logical strategy, is superior, often producing a solution in a flash, an “aha” moment. In this case focused attention prevents the individual from seeing an unusual or creative solution. While the mind wandering off topic increases the discursive thinking that is required for obtaining the insightful solution.

 

Mindfulness is the ability to focus on what is transpiring in the present moment. It involves a greater emphasis on attention to the immediate stimulus environment. Mindful people generally have better attentional abilities and have fewer intrusive thoughts and less spontaneous mind wandering. This would predict that mindfulness, which increases focused attention, would interfere with creativity. It is possible, however, that mindful attention might promote a purposeful, intentional, deliberate mind wandering that may actually increase creativity.

 

Additionally, creative solutions often occur after an incubation period where the individual gets away from the problem for a while. This tends to break up repetitive and routine thinking that may interfere with finding a creative solution. Mindfulness practices may provide incubation periods that help to spur creative thought. Indeed, mindfulness has been found to increase creativity.

 

The research has been accumulating and it makes sense to pause and take a look at what has been learned. In today’s Research News article “Mindfulness and Creativity: Implications for Thinking and Learning.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7395604/) Henriksen and colleagues review, summarize, and perform a thematic analysis of the published research studies on the effects of mindfulness on creativity.

 

They report that the published research found that the practice of mindfulness meditation increases creativity and that the higher the levels of mindfulness the higher the levels of creativity. They also report that open monitoring meditation appears to be better at promoting divergent thinking (creativity) while focused meditation appears to be better at promoting convergent (logical) thinking. Both divergent and convergent thinking can lead to creative solutions to problems although divergent thinking produces more unusual solutions.

 

The research also found that mind wandering and mindfulness were not necessarily in opposition in promoting creativity. Deliberate purposeful mind wandering is supported by mindfulness and promotes creativity, whereas spontaneous mind wandering is suppressed by mindfulness and it interferes with creativity. Hence, the literature supports the conclusion that mindfulness promotes creativity.

 

So, support creativity with mindfulness.

 

“The kind of mindfulness that brings us into the default mode is the bridge between incubation and illumination. It can be the silence that allows us to find our true voice.” – Michael Formica

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Henriksen, D., Richardson, C., & Shack, K. (2020). Mindfulness and Creativity: Implications for Thinking and Learning. Thinking Skills and Creativity, 100689. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tsc.2020.100689

 

Abstract

Mindfulness and creativity have both come to the forefront of interest in educational settings—but a better understanding of their relationship and the implications for education is needed. This article reviews the literature on the intersection of these topics in order to understand where and how these two related but distinctive areas of research connect, and how this pertains to the complexity of educational settings. Our goal is to understand findings from the literature and consider what the implications are for educational practice and research, with an eye to how mindfulness can be supportive to learners’ creativity. This thematic review and qualitative analysis of extant literature identifies four themes that speak to the connection between mindfulness and creativity and its complexity. There is solid evidence to show a generally beneficial and supportive relationship, in that practicing mindfulness can support creativity—but many factors affect this and there are a range of considerations for practice. This article reflects on the key findings of scholarly work on the mindfulness-creativity relationship with interpretative discussion and implications for educational research and practice.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7395604/

 

Increase Self-Compassion and Decrease Mind Wandering in Depression with Mindfulness

Increase Self-Compassion and Decrease Mind Wandering in Depression with Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“MBCT program is a group intervention that allows participants to become aware of how conditioned patterns of mind and mood can trigger depression relapse and sustain current symptoms of depression.  Through the practice of mindful awareness, they develop the capacity to mindfully disengage from distressing moods and negative thoughts.” – Center for Mindfulness in Medicine

 

Clinically diagnosed depression is the most common mental illness, affecting over 6% of the population. But, of patients treated initially with drugs only about a third attained remission of the depression. After repeated and varied treatments including drugs, therapy, exercise etc. only about two thirds of patients attained remission. But drugs often have troubling side effects and can lose effectiveness over time.

 

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) is an alternative treatment to drugs that was specifically developed to treat depression. MBCT involves mindfulness training, containing sitting, walking and body scan meditations, and cognitive therapy that attempts to teach patients to distinguish between thoughts, emotions, physical sensations, and behaviors, and to recognize irrational thinking styles and how they affect behavior. MBCT has been found to be effective in treating depression. The exact mechanisms by which MBCT improves depression need exploration.

 

In today’s Research News article “Compassionate Hearts Protect Against Wandering Minds: Self-compassion Moderates the Effect of Mind-Wandering on Depression.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6426326/), Greenberg and colleagues recruited depressed adults and randomly assigned them to receive either 8 weekly 2-hour sessions of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) or to a wait list control condition. MBCT participants were also asked to practice at home. All participants continued to receive their usual treatments. They were measured before and after treatment for depression, self-compassion, and mind wandering.

 

They found that prior to treatment the higher the levels of depression, the higher the levels of mind wandering and the lower the levels of self-compassion and that the higher the levels of self-compassion the lower the levels of mind wandering. They also found that participants who were low in mind wandering were significantly lower in depression, but only for participants who were also low in self-compassion. For those high in self-compassion there was no relationship between mind wandering and depression. Only those participants who were both low in self-compassion and high in mind wandering were depression scores high.

 

Compared to baseline and the wait-list controls, participants who received Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) had significantly greater reductions in depression and mind wandering and increases in self-compassion.  They also found that the higher the levels of self-compassion at the beginning of training the larger the improvement in depression produced by MBCT. The improvements in depression were also associated with improvements in mind wandering.

 

The study reveals that self-compassion moderates the relationship of mind wandering with depression such that mind wandering is only associated with depression when self-compassion is low. In other words, when a participant has low levels of compassion for themselves they are vulnerable to the ability of a wandering mind to make depression worse. Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) was shown to improve depression, mind wandering, and self-compassion and the degree of impact of MBCT on depression was dependent on the levels of self-compassion, with high self-compassion associated with greater improvement.

 

So, self-compassion appears to be a critical variable in the relationship of mind wandering with depression and the effectiveness of MBCT on depression. This further suggests that training in self-compassion may be able to help reduce depression and improve the impact of mindfulness-based treatments on depression.

 

So, increase self-compassion and decrease mind wandering in depression with mindfulness.

 

“ When you’re struggling with depression, the last thing you want to do is be self-compassionate. But this is precisely what can help.” – Margarita Tartakovsky

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Greenberg, J., Datta, T., Shapero, B. G., Sevinc, G., Mischoulon, D., & Lazar, S. W. (2018). Compassionate Hearts Protect Against Wandering Minds: Self-compassion Moderates the Effect of Mind-Wandering on Depression. Spirituality in clinical practice (Washington, D.C.), 5(3), 155–169. doi:10.1037/scp0000168

 

Abstract

Depression is associated with high levels of mind-wandering and low levels of self-compassion. However, little is known about whether and how these two factors interact with one another to influence depressive symptoms. The current study examined the interaction between mind-wandering, self-compassion and depressive symptoms in a depressed sample and tested the effects of an eight-week Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) program on these constructs. At baseline, mind-wandering was associated with higher depressive symptoms only among individuals with low self-compassion. Self-compassion additionally predicted depressive improvement. As expected, MBCT increased self-compassion and reduced mind-wandering compared to a treatment-as-usual control group. Overall, longitudinal changes in self-compassion produced a moderation effect similar to the one at baseline so that increases in mind-wandering were associated with increases in depressive symptoms only among those who decreased in self-compassion. Results provide the first evidence that self-compassion can protect against the deleterious effects of mind-wandering among depressed participants, both at baseline and longitudinally. Findings also suggest that self-compassion is an effective predictor of depressive improvement. Finally, MBCT is effective not only at reducing depressive symptoms, but also at targeting protective and risk factors associated with depression.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6426326/

 

Eye Movements Reveal Mind Wandering During Meditation

Eye Movements Reveal Mind Wandering During Meditation

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Distractions in the mind translate to micro movements in the eyes or eyelids, and vice-versa. Stillness of eyes brings stillness of mind, and vice-versa.” – Giovanni

 

We spend a tremendous amount of waking time with our minds wandering and not on the present environment or the task at hand. We daydream, plan for the future, review the past, ruminate on our failures, exalt in our successes. In fact, we spend almost half of our waking hours off task with our mind wandering. Mind wandering is also present even during meditation. Mind wandering interferes with our concentration on the present moment. Focused meditation, on the other hand, is the antithesis of mind wandering. Indeed, the more mindful we are the less the mind wanders.

 

A system of the brain known as the Default Mode Network (DMN) becomes active during wind wandering and relatively quiet during focused on task behavior. Meditation is known to reduce the size, connectivity, and activity of the Default Mode Network (DMN).  Hence, brain activity may help identify mind wandering when it occurs. Eye movements occur even when the eyes are closed and during meditation. They may also be indicators of mind wander in during meditation.

 

In today’s Research News article “Spontaneous eye movements during focused-attention mindfulness meditation.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6345481/), Matiz and colleagues recruited adult experienced meditators. They engaged in a 7-minute focused breath meditation or a 7-minute mind wandering where they were asked to “remember or imagine one or more events of their past or future in which they, or another person, were the protagonist.” During the session brain activity, the electroencephalogram (EEG), was recorded. They derived a measure from the EEG that indicated vertical and horizontal eye movements. They also measured the total amount of meditation experience for each participant.

 

They found that during the 7-minutes of mind wandering there were significantly more eye movements, including both vertical and horizontal movements, than during the7-minutes of  focused meditation. In addition, they found that the more meditation experience that the meditator had, the fewer the eye movements that were recorded under both conditions. Hence, experienced meditators not only move their eyes less during meditation and but also during mind wandering.

 

These are interesting findings that suggest that analysis of the brain’s electrical activity, electroencephalogram (EEG), may be able to detect when mind wandering is occurring during meditation. This could lead to the possibility of providing biofeedback to the meditator when the mind is wandering, lessening the amount of mind wandering and thereby deepening the meditative experience. This is an intriguing possibility for future research.

 

When the mind becomes steady in meditation, the eyeballs also become steady. A Yogi whose mind is calm will have a steady eye. “ – Swami Sivananda

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Matiz, A., Crescentini, C., Fabbro, A., Budai, R., Bergamasco, M., & Fabbro, F. (2019). Spontaneous eye movements during focused-attention mindfulness meditation. PloS one, 14(1), e0210862. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0210862

 

Abstract

Oculometric measures have been proven to be useful markers of mind-wandering during visual tasks such as reading. However, little is known about ocular activity during mindfulness meditation, a mental practice naturally involving mind-wandering episodes. In order to explore this issue, we extracted closed-eyes ocular movement measurements via a covert technique (EEG recordings) from expert meditators during two repetitions of a 7-minute mindfulness meditation session, focusing on the breath, and two repetitions of a 7-minute instructed mind-wandering task. Power spectral density was estimated on both the vertical and horizontal components of eye movements. The results show a significantly smaller average amplitude of eye movements in the delta band (1–4 Hz) during mindfulness meditation than instructed mind-wandering. Moreover, participants’ meditation expertise correlated significantly with this average amplitude during both tasks, with more experienced meditators generally moving their eyes less than less experienced meditators. These findings suggest the potential use of this measure to detect mind-wandering episodes during mindfulness meditation and to assess meditation performance.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6345481/

 

Reduce Age-Related Decline in the Brain with Mindfulness

Reduce Age-Related Decline in the Brain with Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

Long-term engagement in mindfulness meditation may enhance cognitive performance in older adults, and that with persistent practice, these benefits may be sustained. That’s great news for the millions of aging adults working to combat the negative effects of aging on the brain.” – B Grace Bullock

 

The aging process involves a systematic progressive decline in every system in the body, the brain included. This includes our mental abilities which decline with age including impairments in memory, attention, and problem-solving ability. It is inevitable and cannot be avoided. Using modern neuroimaging techniques, scientists have been able to view the changes that occur in the nervous system with aging. In addition, they have been able to investigate various techniques that might slow the process of neurodegeneration that accompanies normal aging. They’ve found that mindfulness practices reduce the deterioration of the brain that occurs with aging restraining the loss of neural tissue. Indeed, the brains of practitioners of meditation and yoga have been found to degenerate less with aging than non-practitioners.

 

In today’s Research News article “Default Mode Network, Meditation, and Age-Associated Brain Changes: What Can We Learn from the Impact of Mental Training on Well-Being as a Psychotherapeutic Approach?” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6466873/), Ramírez-Barrantes and colleagues review and summarize the research on the effects of meditation practice on brain function and aging focusing primarily on the Default Mode Network (DMN). It is composed of interconnected brain regions including the medial prefrontal cortex, posterior cingulate cortex, precuneus, inferior parietal lobule, and inferolateral temporal cortex. It is active when the mind is wandering and when the individual is involved in self-referential thinking.

 

Increased activation and functional connectivity of the Default Mode Network (DMN) are associated with the cognitive decline with aging. This makes sense as increased mind wandering would interfere with the attentional focus needed for high level thinking. Mindfulness practices such as meditation and yoga have been shown to both reduce the cognitive decline with aging and also to decrease the activation and functional connectivity of the DMN. This suggests that mindfulness practices may help prevent the cognitive decline in aging in part by reducing the activity of the DMN.

 

Ramírez-Barrantes and colleagues propose that age-related cognitive decline may be slowed or prevented by engaging in mindfulness practices that reduce the activity of the Default Mode Network (DMN). This would reduce mind wandering and improve attention focus resulting in a greater ability to engage in high level thinking. Much more research is needed to explore this interesting possibility.

 

So, reduce age-related decline in the brain with mindfulness.

 

“experienced meditators have higher concentrations of tissue in brain regions most depleted by aging. This suggests that meditation practice may help to minimize brain age and protect against age-related decline.” – Matt Caron

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Ramírez-Barrantes, R., Arancibia, M., Stojanova, J., Aspé-Sánchez, M., Córdova, C., & Henríquez-Ch, R. A. (2019). Default Mode Network, Meditation, and Age-Associated Brain Changes: What Can We Learn from the Impact of Mental Training on Well-Being as a Psychotherapeutic Approach?. Neural Plasticity, 2019, 7067592. doi:10.1155/2019/7067592

 

Abstract

Aging is a physiological process accompanied by cognitive decline, principally in memory and executive functions. Alterations in the connectivity of the default mode network (DMN) have been found to participate in cognitive decline, as well as in several neurocognitive disorders. The DMN has antisynchronic activity with attentional networks (task-positive networks (TPN)), which are critical to executive function and memory. Findings pointing to the regulation of the DMN via activation of TPN suggest that it can be used as a strategy for neuroprotection. Meditation is a noninvasive and nonpharmacological technique proven to increase meta-awareness, a cognitive ability which involves the control of both networks. In this review, we discuss the possibility of facilitating healthy aging through the regulation of networks through meditation. We propose that by practicing specific types of meditation, cognitive decline could be slowed, promoting a healthy lifestyle, which may enhance the quality of life for the elderly.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6466873/

 

Change Brain Connectivity for Better Attention and Thinking with Mindfulness

Change Brain Connectivity for Better Attention and Thinking with Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“mindfulness meditation training increases resting state connectivity between top-down executive control regions, highlighting an important mechanism through which it reduces stress levels.” – Daniel Reed

 

There has accumulated a large amount of research demonstrating that mindfulness has significant benefits for psychological, physical, and spiritual wellbeing. It even improves high level thinking known as executive function and emotion regulation and compassion. Its positive effects are so widespread that it is difficult to find any other treatment of any kind with such broad beneficial effects on everything from thinking to mood and happiness to severe mental and physical illnesses. This raises the question of how mindfulness training could produce such widespread and varied benefits. One possibility is that mindfulness practice results in beneficial changes in the nervous system.

 

The nervous system is a dynamic entity, constantly changing and adapting to the environment. It will change size, activity, and connectivity in response to experience. These changes in the brain are called neuroplasticity. Over the last decade neuroscience has been studying the effects of contemplative practices on the brain and has identified neuroplastic changes in widespread areas. In other words, mindfulness practice appears to mold and change the brain, producing psychological, physical, and spiritual benefits. The changes are complex and require sophisticated brain scanning techniques to detect. Hence there is a need to continue investigating the nature of these changes in the brain produced by meditation.

 

In today’s Research News article “Trait Mindfulness and Functional Connectivity in Cognitive and Attentional Resting State Networks.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6473082/), Parkinson and colleagues recruited undergraduate students who had never meditated, measured them for mindfulness, and scanned their brains under resting conditions with functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI). They examined the functional connectivity of a number of established neural networks and their relationship with mindfulness.

 

They found that mindfulness was negatively related to the functional connectivity of the Default Mode Network (DMN) and positively related to the functional connectivity of the Salience Network, the Central Executive Network, and Attention Network. The Default Mode Network (DMN) has been shown to be associated with mind wandering and self-referential thinking. It is not surprising that mindfulness would be associated with lower levels of the functioning of this network. Indeed, previous work has demonstrated that mindfulness is associated with reduced “mind wandering.”

 

The Salience Network is involved in detecting and filtering important stimuli in the environment from the environment and thereby gets involved in a myriad of high level psychological and social functions. The results suggest that being more mindful is associated with being more sensitive to important information.

 

The Central Executive Network has been shown to be associated with high level thinking and behavioral control. Hence, the results further suggest that high mindfulness is associated with improved cognition. Indeed, mindfulness has been shown through extensive research to be associated with better cognitive ability.

 

Finally, the Attention Network has been found to be associated with, no surprise, the ability to attend and focus. This suggests that high mindfulness is associated with improved attention ability. Again, this reflects other research which demonstrated that mindfulness is associated with a greater ability to attend.

 

Hence the study demonstrated the associations with mindfulness with functional connectivity in various neural networks tracks the demonstrated effects of mindfulness on the individual’s ability to focus, think, and stay in the present moment. This further suggests that changes in the operations of the brain are produced by mindfulness and that hese changes in turn produced improved functional capacities.

 

So, change brain connectivity for better attention and thinking with mindfulness.

 

“Just 11 hours of learning a meditation technique induce positive structural changes in brain connectivity by boosting efficiency in a part of the brain that helps a person regulate behavior in accordance with their goals,” – University of Oregon

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Parkinson, T. D., Kornelsen, J., & Smith, S. D. (2019). Trait Mindfulness and Functional Connectivity in Cognitive and Attentional Resting State Networks. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 13, 112. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2019.00112

 

Abstract

Mindfulness has been described as an orienting of attention to the present moment, with openness and compassion. Individuals displaying high trait mindfulness exhibit this tendency as a more permanent personality attribute. Given the numerous physical and mental health benefits associated with mindfulness, there is a great interest in understanding the neural substrates of this trait. The purpose of the current research was to examine how individual differences in trait mindfulness associated with functional connectivity in five resting-state networks related to cognition and attention: the default mode network (DMN), the salience network (SN), the central executive network (CEN), and the dorsal and ventral attention networks (DAN and VAN). Twenty-eight undergraduate participants completed the Five-Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ), a self-report measure of trait mindfulness which also provides scores on five of its sub-categories (Observing, Describing, Acting with Awareness, Non-judging of Inner Experience, and Non-reactivity to Inner Experience). Participants then underwent a structural MRI scan and a 7-min resting state functional MRI scan. Resting-state data were analyzed using independent-component analyses. An analysis of covariance (ANCOVA) was performed to determine the relationship between each resting state network and each FFMQ score. These analyses indicated that: (1) trait mindfulness and its facets showed increased functional connectivity with neural regions related to attentional control, interoception, and executive function; and (2) trait mindfulness and its facets showed decreased functional connectivity with neural regions related to self-referential processing and mind wandering. These patterns of functional connectivity are consistent with some of the benefits of mindfulness—enhanced attention, self-regulation, and focus on present experience. This study provides support for the notion that non-judgmental attention to the present moment facilitates the integration of regions in neural networks that are related to cognition, attention, and sensation.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6473082/

 

Reduce Mind Wandering with Mindfulness Training Including both Attention and Acceptance Training.

Dreamer

Reduce Mind Wandering with Mindfulness Training Including both Attention and Acceptance Training.

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“being in a mind-wandering state – instead of aware of present moment activities – is not such a happy state. We are generally happier when we are not mind-wandering. “ – Susan L. Smalley

 

We spend a tremendous amount of waking time with our minds wandering and not on the present environment or the task at hand. We daydream, plan for the future, review the past, ruminate on our failures, exalt in our successes. In fact, we spend almost half of our waking hours off task with our mind wandering. Mindfulness is the antithesis of mind wandering. When we’re mindful, we’re paying attention to what is occurring in the present moment. In fact, the more mindful we are the less the mind wanders and mindfulness training reduces mind wandering.

 

You’d think that if we spend so much time with the mind wandering it must be enjoyable. But, in fact research has shown that when our minds are wandering we are actually less happy than when we are paying attention to what is at hand. There are times when mind wandering may be useful, especially in regard to planning and creative thinking. But, for the most part, it interferes with our concentration on the present moment and what we’re doing and makes us unhappy. There is evidence that mindfulness training produces a reduction in mind wandering. Mindfulness training, however, is complex; containing a number of skills including attention training and also acceptance training. It is not known which component or the combination is necessary for the reduction in mind wandering.

 

In today’s Research News article “Brief Mindfulness Meditation Training Reduces Mind-Wandering: The Critical Role of Acceptance. Emotion.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5329004/ ), Rahl and colleagues recruited participants aged 18-30 years from a university community and randomly assigned them to one of four conditions; attention monitoring-only mindfulness, attention monitoring + acceptance mindfulness, relaxation training program, or listening to neutral reading material in a reading control condition. All training occurred on 4 consecutive days for 20 minutes each and employed pre-recorded trainings. Participants were measured before and after the brief trainings for mindfulness, training expectancy, and sustained attention.

 

They found that the monitoring + acceptance mindfulness group had significantly longer sustained attention, suggesting less mind wandering, than the other three groups. Hence, both attention training and acceptance training in combination are necessary for mindfulness training to reduce mind wandering. In other words, participants need to practice both focusing their attention and also accepting things as they are in order to reduce the likelihood of the mind wandering away from the present moment or the task at hand.

 

This is a bit surprising as it would seem logical that training attention would be the key to restricting mind wandering. But, that was not the case. It was necessary that the individual needs to learn not to judge their experience to reduce mind wandering. This suggests that the process of judging experience takes mental activity that is not focused in the present moment and hence tends to elicit mind wandering.

 

So, reduce mind wandering with mindfulness training including both attention and acceptance training.

 

“By noticing and getting to know our patterns, we untangle from the bind of automaticity. This process is usually a gradual one. We need reminders to come back to awareness again and again. These reminders to wake up are built into mindfulness practice: over time, as we train in noticing and coming back to experience, we can shift from a place of unconscious habit to a place of clearer seeing. This shift can be allowed to happen gently—one moment at a time.” – Ed Halliwell

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Rahl, H. A., Lindsay, E. K., Pacilio, L. E., Brown, K. W., & Creswell, J. D. (2017). Brief Mindfulness Meditation Training Reduces Mind-Wandering: The Critical Role of Acceptance. Emotion (Washington, D.C.), 17(2), 224–230. http://doi.org/10.1037/emo0000250

 

Abstract

Mindfulness meditation programs, which train individuals to monitor their present moment experience in an open or accepting way, have been shown to reduce mind-wandering on standardized tasks in several studies. Here we test two competing accounts for how mindfulness training reduces mind-wandering, evaluating whether the attention monitoring component of mindfulness training alone reduces mind-wandering or whether the acceptance training component is necessary for reducing mind-wandering. Healthy young adults (N=147) were randomized to either a 3-day brief mindfulness training condition incorporating instruction in both attention monitoring and acceptance, a mindfulness training condition incorporating attention monitoring instruction only, a relaxation training condition, or a reading control condition. Participants completed measures of dispositional mindfulness and treatment expectancies before the training session on Day 1 and then completed a 6-minute Sustained Attention Response Task (SART) measuring mind-wandering after the training session on Day 3. Acceptance training was important for reducing mind-wandering, such that the monitoring + acceptance mindfulness training condition had the lowest mind-wandering relative to the other conditions, including significantly lower mind-wandering relative to the monitor-only mindfulness training condition. In one of the first experimental mindfulness training dismantling studies to-date, we show that training in acceptance is a critical driver of mindfulness training reductions in mind-wandering. This effect suggests that acceptance skills may facilitate emotion regulation on boring and frustrating sustained attention tasks that foster mind-wandering, such as the SART.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5329004/