Monday, November 10, 2014

Mind wandering that makes effort more efficient.

MindBlog has done numerous posts on our brains' default mode and executive control networks, with the idea usually being that activating the default network or mind wandering during an attention demanding task can impair performance. Spreng et al. now do a study showing that it also can improve performance if the mind wandering is congruent with the task itself. In this case the default and executive control networks appear to relate external goals and internal meaning:
Substantial neuroimaging evidence suggests that spontaneous engagement of the default network impairs performance on tasks requiring executive control. We investigated whether this impairment depends on the congruence between executive control demands and internal mentation. We hypothesized that activation of the default network might enhance performance on an executive control task if control processes engage long-term memory representations that are supported by the default network. Using fMRI, we scanned 36 healthy young adult humans on a novel two-back task requiring working memory for famous and anonymous faces. In this task, participants (1) matched anonymous faces interleaved with anonymous face, (2) matched anonymous faces interleaved with a famous face, or (3) matched a famous faces interleaved with an anonymous face. As predicted, we observed a facilitation effect when matching famous faces, compared with anonymous faces. We also observed greater activation of the default network during these famous face-matching trials. The results suggest that activation of the default network can contribute to task performance during an externally directed executive control task. Our findings provide evidence that successful activation of the default network in a contextually relevant manner facilitates goal-directed cognition.

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