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Mind and Body Wander Together

New research discovers that as your mind wanders, your body may go along for the ride.

Classically, a wandering mind suggests you are not paying attention to what is going on – a new study finds when subjects’ minds wander they blink more, setting up a tiny physical barrier between themselves and the outside world.

Cognitive neuroscientist Daniel Smilek, of the University of Waterloo was inspired by brain research that shows, when the mind wanders, the parts of the brain that process external goings-on are less active.

“And we thought, ok, if that’s the case, maybe we’d see that the body would start to do things to prevent the brain from receiving external information,” Smilek says.

“The simplest thing that might happen is you might close your eyes more.”

So, Smilek and his colleagues, Jonathan S.A. Carriere and J. Allan Cheyne, also of the University of Waterloo, set out to look at how often people blink when their mind wanders.

Fifteen volunteers read a passage from a book on a computer. While they read, a sensor tracked their eye movements, including blinks and what word they were looking at.

At random intervals, the computer beeped and the subjects reported whether they’d been paying attention to what they were reading or whether their minds were wandering — which included thinking about earlier parts of the text.

The participants blinked more when their minds were wandering than when they were on task, the team reports in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

“What we suggest is that when you start to mind-wander, you start to gate the information even at the sensory endings — you basically close your eyelid so there’s less information coming into the brain,” says Smilek.

This is part of a shift in how scientists are thinking about the mind, he says. Psychologists are realizing that “you can’t think about these mental processes, like attention, separately from the fact that the individual’s brain is in a body, and the body’s acting in the world.”

The mind doesn’t ignore the world all by itself; the eyelids help.

Source: Association for Psychological Science

Mind and Body Wander Together

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2015). Mind and Body Wander Together. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 12, 2018, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2010/04/30/mind-and-body-wander-together/13336.html

 

Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 6 Oct 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 6 Oct 2015
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.