Mind-wandering / stimulus independent thought
A striking (and perhaps relatable) example of a lapse in metacognitive monitoring is that we often fail to notice that our minds have wandered to unrelated topics during reading or attention tasks, even in the context of experiments in which we are specifically instructed to remain vigilant for such lapses and report them as soon as they occur. In theoretical reviews, we have proposed that mind-wandering reflects the cyclic activity of two core processes: the disengagement of attention from perception (termed perceptual decoupling) and fluctuations in metacognitive monitoring.
Our research has uncovered novel neural signatures of failures of task monitoring and the shift to mind-wandering, including changes in neural signal-to-noise ratio and cortical phase locking (Baird et al., 2014). We have also documented how lapses of monitoring and concomitant mind-wandering can impair performance on standardized tests as well as the paradoxical role of monitoring in thought suppression (Baird et al., 2013).
However, our research indicates that mind-wandering is more complex than a simple failure of mental control. For instance, we have found that mind-wandering often involves complex high-level cognition, including autobiographical planning (Baird et al., 2011), and can play a role in creative problem solving (Baird et al., 2012).
Baird, B., Smallwood, J., Lutz, A., Schooler, J. W. (2014). The decoupled mind: Mind-wandering disrupts cortical phase-locking to perceptual events. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 26(11), 2596-2607.
Baird, B., Smallwood, J., Mrazek, M., Franklin, M., & Schooler, J. W. (2012). Inspired by distraction: Mind-wandering facilitates creative incubation. Psychological Science, 23(10), 1117-1122.
Baird, B., Smallwood, J., & Schooler, J. W. (2011). Back to the future: Autobiographical planning and the functionality of mind-wandering. Consciousness and Cognition, 20(4), 1604-1611.
Baird, B., Schooler, J. W., Mrazek, M., Fishman, D., & Smallwood, J. (2013). Unnoticed intrusions: Dissociations of meta-consciousness in thought suppression. Consciousness and Cognition, 22(3), 1003-1012.
Smallwood, J., Brown, K., Baird, B., & Schooler, J. W. (2012). Cooperation between the default mode network and the frontal-parietal network in the production of an internal train of thought. Brain Research, 1428, 60-70.
Smallwood, J., Tipper, C., Brown, K., Baird, B., Engen, H., Michaels, J., Grafton, S., & Schooler, J. W. (2013). Escaping the here and now: A role for the default mode network in cognition that is independent of perception. Neuroimage, 69, 120–125.