DMN – Brain’s attention system
The Default Mode Network is one part of the brain’s attention system. Dr Marcus Raichle discovered in 2001 whilst doing neuroimaging of activity in people’s brains that when they daydreamed, engaged in passive states of inattention or mind wandering, a number of different areas of the brain that link together as a network, lit up, showing intense activity (Hasenkamp et al., 2012). He found that during these times of inattention the human brain defaults to this network and that despite an individual’s passivity, once activated it becomes extremely active.
The network is rather like a set of lights, when one set is turned on the other turns off. This means that with intentional attention we can consciously shift our focus away from negative self-evaluation.
The system is made up of a number of different areas of the brain that are self-referential in a generally negative way. Once activated, the network goes to work on identifying problems and trying to work out how to fix them. This often involves circular thinking and rumination involving autobiographical thoughts about the past and the future. (Andrews-Hanna et al., J. Neurophysiology, 2010). The fears or unrealistic expectations elicited by mind-wandering act as limiting factors, continually removing us from the present moment conscious experience and thus causing distress. In this way we lose the ‘now moment’ which is brimming with rich potential and emergent possibilities.
The DMN is connected to a wider network – the executive and task-oriented brain systems, these additional systems are what enable us to consciously direct the focus of our attention from one thing to another and to take action. This is achieved when we give intentional attention to a task or awareness that shifts the focus of attention away from passive mind wandering. The network is rather like a set of lights, when one set is turned on the other turns off. This means that with intentional attention we can consciously shift our focus away from negative self-evaluation.
The findings of research show that mindfulness-based therapeutic interventions can improve symptoms of distress by training people to become less attached to their thoughts and view them for what they are rather than the truth.