A Neural Model of Mind Wandering

Trends Cogn Sci. 2016 Aug;20(8):570-578. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2016.06.004. Epub 2016 Jun 25.


The role of the default-mode network (DMN) in the emergence of mind wandering and task-unrelated thought has been studied extensively. In parallel work, mind wandering has been associated with neuromodulation via the locus coeruleus (LC) norepinephrine (LC-NE) system. Here we propose a neural model that links the two systems in an integrative framework. The model attempts to explain how dynamic changes in brain systems give rise to the subjective experience of mind wandering. The model implies a neural and conceptual distinction between an off-focus state and an active mind-wandering state and provides a potential neural grounding for well-known cognitive theories of mind wandering. Finally, the proposed neural model of mind wandering generates precise, testable predictions at neural and behavioral levels.

Keywords: adaptive-gain theory; default-mode network; gain modulation.; locus coeruleus; mind wandering; norepinephrine.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Attention / physiology*
  • Awareness / physiology
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cognition
  • Humans
  • Locus Coeruleus
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Thinking / physiology*