Neural Networks and the Default Mode Network

During infancy and early childhood development, the brain forms neural networks to carry out basic tasks:  Speaking/language, walking, and writing. Neural networks are also formed in response to behavioral and emotional patterns.

These networks become strengthened over time. This is why certain patterns are hard to change.

In the early 2000s, researchers began using functional MRI (fMRI) to map and evaluate activity of neural networks.  This allowed for advances in brain surgery, allowing surgeons to avoid critical networks such as those involved in language, and also new insights into brain activity.

Interestingly, even when we are at rest, our brains our active. In fact, our brains will become active in a very specific way when we are at rest – this is the Default Mode Network, which may be different for every individual, but tends to follow an identical pattern in all of us when try to rest our brain.

Default Mode Network

Default Mode Network (DMN) refers to a handful of brain regions that become active, in synchronicity, when the brain is not engaged in a specific task. In other words, the default mode network becomes active at rest.

When studying the default mode network, research found that by-and-large, most people entered into mind-wandering at rest.  Mind wandering most often involves self-referential thoughts – memories, planning for the future, or thinking involving the ‘I’.

One problem with default mode network is that this is the seat of many neurologic disorders. Alzheimer’s Dementia, for example, leads to plaque deposition in the DMN, which is one reason that people lose access to memories and sense of direction. In essence, the DMN becomes burnt out. There is not enough healing capacity to clean out these over-used networks, and neurologic disease will occur.

Developing brain flexibility is one way to help preserve the default mode network, therefore engaging different areas of the brain. Meditation also supports neuron growth and facilitates quieting the mind, thereby preventing the burn-out associated with mind-wandering.