I try to begin every day gathering new information. Today’s lesson was one in neuroscience, one of my favorite topics. I learned about the default mode network as I read through a very insightful article from abc NEWS. As a grad student I scour through literature on many subjects and have quite a breadth of general knowledge on most things biological. However, I had never heard of the default mode network which triggered a desire to learn more.
Let’s begin our lesson with a basic intro into how or brains work. There is a common idea that actions or behaviors reside in one location of the brain. This is untrue, the brain is an interconnected network where actions, behaviors, and decisions are generalized to many areas of the brain. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way the default network is a network of active areas in the brain responsible for imagination and daydreaming. How interesting is that, who hasn’t wondered what daydreaming was?
The areas involved are the medial temporal lobe (responsible for memory), medial prefrontal cortex (decision making), the posterior cingulate cortex (integration), the precuneus (episodic memory), and the lateral and inferior parietal cortex (spatial ability). So all of these areas work together when your mind wonders in class or as you’re listening to your significant other drone on…blah, blah, blah!
Many neurological disorders are impacted by the default network including; Autism, Schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s, and PTSD. So daydreaming may be a nice escape from boring situations but it has a down side like anxiety and dissociation. Dr. Judson Brewer and his team at the Yale Therapeutic Neuroscience Clinic completed a study on the default network. They found that mindfulness and meditation can help us gain control over our daydreaming thus offering us control when our minds take us somewhere we don’t want to go.
So next time you find your mind wandering recall that it’s just your temporal lobe and precuneus pulling up memories and communicating with your prefrontal cortex, your lateral and inferior parietal cortex are keeping your orientation in space, and all of this is being integrated by your cingulate cortex.