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Closed Loop NeuroStimulation of Attention

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Mind-wandering: the power of brain stimulation

Can mind-wandering conceal cognitive abilities or mental health problems? European scientists work to uncover biomarkers of mind-wandering and explore brain stimulation for cognitive enhancement.

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The phenomenon of mind-wandering involves the redirection of thoughts and attention from one's immediate task. This diversion can be intentional, as when one purposefully allows one's mind to wander during a mundane task, or unintentional, a common experience where one's thoughts detach from the immediate surroundings to embark on internal thought processes, such as reminiscing or daydreaming. Research indicates that unintentional mind-wandering often aligns with maladaptive cognitive characteristics and psychopathologies, including depression and dysphoria. Conversely, intentional mind-wandering, is associated with advantageous cognitive elements, like creativity. This form of mind-wandering also correlates with increased prefrontal cortical thickness, a feature that contributes to human's advanced cognitive abilities.

Markers for Intentional vs Unintentional Mind Wandering

Supported by the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) programme, the CLONESA project sought to unravel the intricate aspects of mind-wandering, aiming to differentiate between its intentional and unintentional forms. "In CLONESA, our focus was on discovering specific electrophysiological markers for intentional and unintentional mind-wandering with promising implications for cognitive abilities and mental health," highlights the MSCA research fellow Adrien Martel with a long-standing research interest in mind-wandering. Under the guidance of the principal investigator Antoni Valero-Cabré, the team successfully identified unique neurocognitive markers – distinct fingerprints within the brain's electrical activity. These markers can discriminate between focused attention and intentional or unintentional mind-wandering states. These markers, especially within the theta and alpha frequency bands, have provided novel insights into attention dynamics. This discovery enriches our understanding of the neural mechanisms underlying mind-wandering, adding to the field of cognitive neuroscience.

Non-invasive brain stimulation: can it regulate mind-wandering?

The team also explored non-invasive brain stimulation techniques that could potentially modulate the neurocognitive processes underpinning mind-wandering. These techniques, influencing the fundamental neurocognitive mechanisms tied to executive control, hold the potential to rectify dysfunctional activity patterns and boost attention in healthy individuals as well as those afflicted by neuropsychiatric conditions. The team launched a large-scale study to probe the effects of non-invasive brain stimulation on neurocognitive markers of executive control and sustained attention. They used transcranial magnetic stimulation and transcranial alternating current stimulation alongside a machine learning technique previously successful in classifying consciousness levels. This allowed precise identification of neural markers associated with different mind-wandering states. "Our ground-breaking research explores whether brainwave patterns can be modulated to influence distinct types of mind-wandering," asserts Valero-Cabré. Promising preliminary results reinforce the original hypothesis, highlighting the potential of non-invasive brain stimulation techniques in regulating mind-wandering. As CLONESA advances, the team is poised to conclude this study and further develop non-invasive brain stimulation-based interventions to regulate attention and mind-wandering. "Our continued research into the potential of non-invasive brain stimulation techniques to regulate distinct types of mind-wandering holds promise for developing innovative therapeutic approaches to augment cognitive performance and address attention-related disorders," concludes Valero-Cabré.


CLONESA, mind-wandering, non-invasive brain stimulation, neurocognitive markers, transcranial magnetic stimulation, transcranial alternating current stimulation, machine learning

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