The wandering mind oscillates: EEG alpha power is enhanced during moments of mind-wandering
What is your brain doing while your mind is wandering? This study used a within-subjects experience-sampling design to test whether episodes of mind-wandering during a demanding cognitive task are associated with increases in EEG alpha power. Alpha refers to cyclic oscillations in EEG activity at 8–12 Hz, and has been previously correlated with internally rather than externally directed cognition. Participants completed a speeded performance task with more than 800 trials while EEG was recorded. Intermittent experience-sampling probes asked participants to indicate whether their mind was wandering or on-task. Participants reported mind-wandering in response to approximately half of the probes. EEG alpha power was significantly higher preceding probes to which participants reported mind-wandering, compared with probes to which participants reported being on task. These findings imply that dynamic changes in alpha power may prove a valuable tool in studying momentary fluctuations in mind-wandering.
KeywordsMind-wandering EEG Alpha oscillations Experience sampling
Paige Carson, Elizabeth Heaton, Stephanie Histon, Taylor Levine, and Danielle Rette assisted with data collection. This study was supported by NSF RUI Grant No. 1632584.
Open practices statement
The data from this study are available from the first author upon request. The study was not preregistered.
- Andrews-Hanna, J. R., Irving, Z. C., Fox, K. C., Spreng, R. N., & Christoff, K. (2018). The neuroscience of spontaneous thought: An evolving interdisciplinary field. In K.C. Fox & K. Christoff (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of spontaneous thought: Mind-wandering, creativity, and dreaming. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780190464745.013.33 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Compton, R. J., Rette, D., Gearinger, D., Wild, H., Histon, S., Heaton, E., & Thiel, P. (2019). Post-error arousal: Simultaneous EEG and pupillary responses to performance errors. Manuscript in preparation.Google Scholar
- Cooper, N. R., Croft, R. J., Dominey, S. J., Burgess, A. P., & Gruzelier, J. H. (2003). Paradox lost? Exploring the role of alpha oscillations during externally vs. internally directed attention and the implications for idling and inhibition hypotheses. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 47(1), 65–74.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
- Mrazek, M. D., Phillips, D. T., Franklin, M. S., Broadway, J. M., & Schooler, J. W. (2013). Young and restless: Validation of the Mind-Wandering Questionnaire (MWQ) reveals disruptive impact of mind-wandering for youth. Frontiers in Psychology, 4, 560. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00560 CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
- Seli, P., Cheyne, J. A., & Smilek, D. (2013). Wandering minds and wavering rhythms: Linking mind wandering and behavioral variability. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 39(1), 1–5. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0030954 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
- Stawarczyk, D., Majerus, S., Maquet, P., & D’Argembeau, A. (2011). Neural correlates of ongoing conscious experience: Both task-unrelatedness and stimulus-independence are related to default network activity. PLOS ONE, 6(2), e16997.doi: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0016997 CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar