Your Brain’s Default Setting May Surprise You
Just like a new phone or computer, everyone’s brain comes with a default setting. This setting explains why it is so easy to get lost in your thoughts and lose focus when trying to complete a task.
Defining Default Mode Network
The brain’s default setting is due to the default mode network, or DMN. The DMN is made up of several brain regions that are associated with spontaneous thought and task-related deactivation.¹ The brain regions that make up this network have a high degree of connectivity.²
All of the random and wandering thoughts that you have throughout the day can be attributed to the DMN, which is most active during periods of relaxation, involuntary activity, and awake rest.³
Activity in the DMN is connected to one’s sense of self, consciousness, self-reflective thought, and memory.⁴ In short, the DMN is responsible for the “voice in your head” and any thoughts you have that are not deliberate or intentional.
When you switch from being at rest to completing a task, the activity of the DMN decreases.⁵ DMN activity is negatively correlated with the activity of the task-positive network (TPN).⁶ The TPN is the attentional network that is activated when completing a goal-oriented task.⁷ This means that when the activity of the DMN increases, the activity of the TPN decreases (and vice-versa).
Implications of the DMN
Malfunctions in the DMN can put individuals at risk for developing neurological disorders such as anxiety, PTSD, and attention deficits.⁸ For example, people who have ADHD tend to have stronger connectivity in their DMN and weaker connectivity in the regions of the brain associated with inhibition.⁹
Unusual function in the DMN is also associated with rumination, or repetitive thoughts.¹⁰ Rumination usually involves negative thoughts about oneself and can cause adverse mental effects and depression.¹¹
Finally, assessing levels of activity in the DMN may lead to early detection and effective treatment of several neural afflictions, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s Disease, Temporal Lobe Epilepsy, and ADHD.¹²
Luckily, there is one very easy and simple method that can be used to decrease DMN activity: meditation. Meditation has been known to activate the task-positive network (TPN), which is useful for neuroprotection and staying engaged and attentive during task completion.¹³
Check out these articles for more info on this topic: Using Meditation to Rewire Your Brain, Is Meditation the Key to a Successful Workplace, and Train a Better Brain: the Neuroscience of Mindfulness.
- Wielgosz, J., Goldberg, S. B., Kral, T., Dunne, J. D., & Davidson, R. J. (2019). Mindfulness Meditation and Psychopathology. Annual review of clinical psychology, 15, 285–316. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-clinpsy-021815-093423
- Mohan, A., Roberto, A. J., Mohan, A., Lorenzo, A., Jones, K., Carney, M. J., Liogier-Weyback, L., Hwang, S., & Lapidus, K. A. (2016). The Significance of the Default Mode Network (DMN) in Neurological and Neuropsychiatric Disorders: A Review. The Yale journal of biology and medicine, 89(1), 49–57.
- Lee, D. J., Kulubya, E., Goldin, P., Goodarzi, A., & Girgis, F. (2018). Review of the Neural Oscillations Underlying Meditation. Frontiers in neuroscience, 12, 178. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2018.00178
- Pfefferbaum, A., Chanraud, S., Pitel, A. L., Müller-Oehring, E., Shankaranarayanan, A., Alsop, D. C., Rohlfing, T., & Sullivan, E. V. (2011). Cerebral blood flow in posterior cortical nodes of the default mode network decreases with task engagement but remains higher than in most brain regions. Cerebral cortex (New York, N.Y. : 1991), 21(1), 233–244. https://doi.org/10.1093/cercor/bhq090
- Mohan et al. 2016
- Ramírez-Barrantes, R., Arancibia, M., Stojanova, J., Aspé-Sánchez, M., Córdova, C., & Henríquez-Ch, R. A. (2019). Default Mode Network, Meditation, and Age-Associated Brain Changes: What Can We Learn from the Impact of Mental Training on Well-Being as a Psychotherapeutic Approach?. Neural plasticity, 2019, 7067592. https://doi.org/10.1155/2019/7067592
- Mohan et al. 2016
- Heeter, C., & Allbritton, M. (2015). Being There: Implications of Neuroscience and Meditation for Self-Presence in Virtual Worlds. Journal For Virtual Worlds Research, 8(2). doi:10.4101/jvwr.v8i2.7164
- Mohan et al. 2016
- Ramírez-Barrantes et al. 2019