Summary: When our minds go blank, the brain enters a mode similar to what it does during deep sleep.
Source: university of Liege
Researchers from the GIGA CRC In vivo Imaging of the University of Liège (Belgium), EPF Lausanne and the University of Geneva publish a study which shows that the phenomenology of “mind blanking” challenges the belief that the human mind is always thinking.
We generally consider our mind to be full of thoughts when we are awake. Like an ever-flowing river, we similarly maintain our own dynamic mental flux: one thought can lead to another, relevant to what we are doing or not doing, ebbing back between our inner life and the outer environment. But how can the brain constantly maintain such a thought-bound mode?
A study just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences indicates that this is not the case, and that our brain also needs to “disconnect” for a few moments, which we can experience as blanks in the mind.
Researchers from the University of Liège and EPF Lausanne and the University of Geneva have reanalyzed a previously collected dataset where healthy participants reported their mental state as it was before hearing a probe hearing (beep) as they rested in the MRI scanner. Choices were among environmental perceptions, stimulus-dependent thoughts, stimulus-independent thoughts, and mental absences.
Functional images were collected during this experiment sampling method. The researchers found that mind-cloaking episodes were reported quite infrequently compared to other states, and also barely reappeared over time.
Using machine learning, the researchers further discovered that our brains during mind-suppressing episodes organize themselves in such a way that all brain regions communicate with each other at the same time. This ultra-connected brain pattern was further characterized by a high global fMRI signal amplitude, which is an indicator of low cortical arousal.
In other words, when we report mental emptiness, our brain appears to be in a mode similar to deep sleep, only that we are awake.
“Mental emptiness is a relatively new mental state in the study of spontaneous cognition. This opens up exciting insights into the underlying biological mechanisms that occur during waking life. It may be that the boundaries of sleep and awakening are not as discreet as they seem after all,” explains principal researcher Dr Demertzi Athena, FNRS researcher at GIGA ULiège.
“The constantly and rapidly changing brain activity requires robust analytical methods to confirm the specific signature of mental emptiness”, continues Dr. Van De Ville Dimitri.
The researchers say that the rigid neurofunctional profile of mental masking could explain the inability to report mental content due to the brain’s inability to differentiate signals informatively.
Until the underlying mechanisms are elucidated, this work suggests that instantaneous unreportable mental events can occur during wakefulness, defining mental voids as a predominant mental state during an ongoing experience.
About this neuroscience research news
Author: Didier Moreau
Source: university of Liege
Contact: Didier Moreau – University of Liège
Image: Image is in public domain
Original research: Access closed.
“Mental emptiness is a distinct mental state linked to a recurrent brain pattern of overall positive connectivity during ongoing mentation” by Demertzi, A et al. PNAS
Mental emptiness is a distinct mental state linked to a recurrent brain pattern of overall positive connectivity during ongoing mentation
Mind Blanking (MB) is a state of wakefulness during which we report no mental content. MB’s phenomenology defies the vision of a constantly thinking mind. Here, we comprehensively characterize the neurobehavioral profile of MB with the aim of delineating its role during ongoing mentation.
Using functional MRI experience sampling, we show that the possibility of MB reporting is less frequent, faster, and with lower transition dynamics than other mental states, highlighting its role as a mental relay. transient.
Regarding its neural underpinnings, we observed a higher overall signal amplitude during MB intercourse, indicating a distinct physiological state. Using the time-varying functional connectome, we show that MB ratios can be classified with high accuracy, suggesting that MB has a unique neural composition.
Indeed, a positive-phase global consistency pattern shows the greatest similarity to connectivity patterns associated with MB ratios. We interpret the rigid signal architecture of this model as impeding the ability to report content due to the brain’s inability to differentiate signals informatively. Collectively, we show that MB has a unique neurobehavioral profile, indicating that unreportable mental events can occur during wakefulness.
Our results add to the characterization of spontaneous mentation and pave the way for more mechanistic investigations of MB phenomenology.
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