Spontaneous attentional fluctuations in impaired states and pathological conditions: a neurobiological hypothesis

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2007;31(7):977-86. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2007.02.005. Epub 2007 Mar 12.


In traditional accounts, fluctuations in sustained and focused attention and associated attentional lapses during task performance are regarded as the result of failures of top-down and effortful higher order processes. The current paper reviews an alternative hypothesis: that spontaneous patterns of very low frequency (<0.1 Hz) coherence within a specific brain network ('default-mode network') thought to support a pattern of generalized task-non-specific cognition during rest, can persist or intrude into periods of active task-specific processing, producing periodic fluctuations in attention that compete with goal-directed activity. We review recent studies supporting the existence of the resting state default network, examine the mechanism underpinning it, describe the consequent temporally distinctive effects on cognition and behaviour of default-mode interference into active processing periods, and suggest some factors that might predispose to it. Finally, we explore the putative role of default-mode interference as a cause of performance variability in attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Attention / physiology*
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / pathology*
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / physiopathology*
  • Brain / pathology
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Humans
  • Neural Networks, Computer
  • Neurobiology
  • Reaction Time