Mind-wandering as spontaneous thought: a dynamic framework

Nat Rev Neurosci. 2016 Nov;17(11):718-731. doi: 10.1038/nrn.2016.113. Epub 2016 Sep 22.


Most research on mind-wandering has characterized it as a mental state with contents that are task unrelated or stimulus independent. However, the dynamics of mind-wandering - how mental states change over time - have remained largely neglected. Here, we introduce a dynamic framework for understanding mind-wandering and its relationship to the recruitment of large-scale brain networks. We propose that mind-wandering is best understood as a member of a family of spontaneous-thought phenomena that also includes creative thought and dreaming. This dynamic framework can shed new light on mental disorders that are marked by alterations in spontaneous thought, including depression, anxiety and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Fantasy*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Mental Disorders / diagnostic imaging
  • Mental Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Mental Disorders / psychology
  • Nerve Net / diagnostic imaging
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Thinking / physiology*