Jonny researches the neuroscience of the phenomenon of spontaneous, internally generated thought, as exemplified by mind-wandering and day-dreaming. To me, this is an interesting topic because it is; a) something that we do all the time, b) relevant to high-prevalence mental health conditions (such as rumination and worry in depression and anxiety), and c) is quite different from other most neuroscience areas that tend to be studied through specific tasks.
In this conversation, we discuss the function of mind-wandering, whether it makes us unhappy, its relationship to the default-mode network, the position of the default-mode network in the brain’s processing hierarchy and the challenges and opportunities of studying spontaneous thought.
0:05 – What does Jonny work on?
1:45 – What is the function of mind-wandering?
8:10 – Is a wandering mind an unhappy mind?
10:50 – What is the relationship between mind-wandering and repetitive negative thinking like rumination and worrying?
12:35 – Other than past-future and positive-negative, what other dimension characterise mind-wandering?
17:30 – What are the challenges and opportunities of working on such a diverse phenomena (i.e. mind-wandering)?
21:40 – What is the research on personality and mind-wandering?
23:30 – Is the mind either on-task or mind-wandering? Or are there other states?
24:30 – Is mind-wandering a phenomena related exclusively to the Default Mode Network?
29:25 – Does the Default Mode Network comprise regions that are significantly different in humans compared to other species?
31:15 – Can we say that animals mind-wander if they have a DMN?
34:20 – On the DMN as the top of the brain’s information processing hierarchy.
36:50 – On the relationship between spontaneous and controlled cognition.
40:20 – Advice to students interested in a career like Jonny’s.
44:30 – On what’s next for Jonny
55:50 – The role of the DMN in self and identity.
Episode Links and References