Mind wandering away from pain dynamically engages antinociceptive and default mode brain networks

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Aaron KucyiKaren D Davis


Human minds often wander away from their immediate sensory environment. It remains unknown whether such mind wandering is unsystematic or whether it lawfully relates to an individual's tendency to attend to salient stimuli such as pain and their associated brain structure/function. Studies of pain-cognition interactions typically examine explicit manipulation of attention rather than spontaneous mind wandering. Here we sought to better represent natural fluctuations in pain in daily life, so we assessed behavioral and neural aspects of spontaneous disengagement of attention from pain. We found that an individual's tendency to attend to pain related to the disruptive effect of pain on his or her cognitive task performance. Next, we linked behavioral findings to neural networks with strikingly convergent evidence from functional magnetic resonance imaging during pain coupled with thought probes of mind wandering, dynamic resting state activity fluctuations, and diffusion MRI. We found that (i) pain-induced default mode network (DMN) deactivations were attenuated during mind wandering away from pain; (ii) functional connectivity fluctuations between the DMN and periaqueductal gray (PAG) dynamically tracked spontaneous attention aw...Continue Reading


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