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article imageDaydreaming is brain's default setting, study finds

By Iamseven     Jan 21, 2007 in Lifestyle
Daydreaming seems to be the default setting of the human mind and certain brain regions are devoted to it, U.S. researchers reported Friday.
In Friday's issue of the journal Science, U.S. researchers report that when people are given a specific task to complete, they will focus on it, but during down time, something else kicks in-- daydreaming.
"I find that the vast majority of time, people aren't having fanciful thoughts. People are thinking about what they have to do later today," psychologist Malia Mason of Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital said.
The team of researchers has decided to use the terms "stimulus-independent thought" or "mind wandering" as opposed to daydreaming.
There has been an ongoing debate for neurologists and psychologists about what exactly the brain does when people are not focus on one specific task. There was general agreement that the mind does not go 'blank'-- they both reasoned that people's brains are continuously active in one form or another.
So Mason's team of researchers devised an experiment using fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) to figure out what happened to the brain during down time.
fMRI allows scientists to take images of the brain which highlight the areas that are active and when they are active. This can all be done while the person is under the machine so the effects can be seen as they are happening, in real time so to speak.
The team chose 19 volunteers and scanned their brains as they performed diverse tasks. Then they were imaged while just sitting around, waiting for their next task.
"In the absence of a task that requires deliberative processing, the mind generally tends to wander, flitting from one thought to the next with fluidity and ease," the researchers wrote.
Active regions during daydreaming include the superior frontal gyrus, the insula, and parts of the temporal lobe.
No real conclusions have been drawn on why this is so as of yet but the researchers have considered the possibility that this occurs so that the brain is always ready to jump into action when needed.
"A second possibility is that as a kind of spontaneous mental time travel (stimulus-independent thought) lends a sense of coherence to one's past, present, and future experiences," the researchers wrote.
It's also possible that there really is no reason for why daydreaming occurs. The researchers concluded that while some thoughts produced during daydreaming are useful, this does not prove that the mind wanders because these thoughts are useful.. it is possible that the mind wanders simply because it chooses to do so.
lol.. I could have told them that! I spend the majority of my day daydreaming.. in class usually.. :P. I try not to but it's really easy to slip into that mode.. still.. cool that they can map the brain out to show it now.
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