The neuroscience of spontaneous thought: An evolving interdisciplinary field

Jessica R. Andrews-Hanna, Zachary C. Irving, Kieran C.R. Fox, R. Nathan Spreng, Kalina Christoff

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

43 Scopus citations


An often- overlooked characteristic of the human mind is its propensity to wander. Despite growing interest in the science of mind- wandering, most studies operationalize mind- wandering by its taskunrelated contents, which may be orthogonal to the processes constraining how thoughts are evoked and unfold over time. This chapter emphasizes the importance of incorporating such processes into current definitions of mind- wandering, and proposes that mind- wandering and other forms of spontaneous thought (such as dreaming and creativity) are mental states that arise and transition relatively freely due to an absence of constraints on cognition. The chapter reviews existing psychological, philosophical, and neuroscientific research on spontaneous thought through the lens of this framework, and calls for additional research into the dynamic properties of the mind and brain.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Oxford Handbook of Spontaneous Thought
Subtitle of host publicationMind-Wandering, Creativity, and Dreaming
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages22
ISBN (Print)9780190464745
StatePublished - Apr 5 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Creativity
  • Dreaming
  • Mind-wandering
  • Spontaneous thought
  • Task-unrelated

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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