Thursday, February 08, 2024
By
Web Desk

What does your brain do when you're not doing anything?

Neurologist discovers that mental inward, task-negative areas in resting mind use more energy than rest of brain

By
Web Desk
A man looks out of a window on a train. — Unsplash
A man looks out of a window on a train. — Unsplash

We typically associate brain activity with tasks that require mental effort, but have you ever wondered if your brain is active even when you're not doing anything? It turns out that the answer is yes.

Research has shown that our brains are constantly active even during periods of rest or "zoning out" on the couch and this activity is thought to be important for several functions, including memory consolidation and problem-solving.

Researchers found that activity in certain brain areas increases during tasks, while activity in other areas declines simultaneously, Quanta Magazine reported.

This led them to be intrigued by the consistent activity of the same brain areas during various tasks as if they were active when the person wasn't doing anything and turned off when concentrating on external stimuli.

They called these areas “task-negative", prompting research into the role of brain networks in managing our internal experience, rather than just brain regions.

Marcus Raichle, a neurologist at Washington University School of Medicine, discovered that mental inward, task-negative areas in the resting mind use more energy than the rest of the brain.

In 2001, a study dubbed this activity "a default mode of brain function." Two years later, a Stanford University team discovered that this task-negative activity forms a coherent network of interacting brain regions, which they called the "default mode network".

A little girl rests her head in her arms. — Unsplash
A little girl rests her head in her arms. — Unsplash

The default mode, one of the first brain networks, consists of a few brain regions, such as the dorsal and ventral medial prefrontal cortices, and others scattered throughout the brain.

These regions are associated with memory, experience replay, prediction, action consideration, reward/punishment, and information integration.

Since its discovery, neuroscientists have identified several distinct networks that activate seemingly disparate areas of the brain in synchrony, harmonising in synchrony with each other.

Research suggests that the default mode network, which includes mind wandering, remembering past experiences, thinking about others' mental states, envisioning the future, and processing language, can help construct an internal narrative.

According to Vinod Menon, the director of the Stanford Cognitive and Systems Neuroscience Laboratory, this network helps individuals think about their identity to others, recall past experiences, and create a coherent self-narrative.

The default mode is clearly up to something complicated; it’s involved in many different processes that can’t be neatly described.