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Surprising Science

The Brain’s Subconscious Network

How do thoughts arise in your brain? Rather than selecting them consciously, the brain's default-mode network analyzes a situation and determines what your priorities should be.

What’s the Latest Development?

Even while you may be relaxing on vacation, slack-jawed in a beach chair, sections of your brain remain vigilant, ready to put your survival skills into action should you need them. The base functions of the brain are called its default-mode network and include the hippocampus, medial orbitofrontal cortex and the anterior cingulate, says Jens Pruessner, an associate professor in the departments of psychology, psychiatry, neurology and neurosurgery at McGill University in Montreal. These parts of the brain assign priorities to potential actions and then carry them out.  

What’s the Big Idea?

There is a vast sea beneath the surface of awareness. To what extent do our subconscious thoughts, ones that we are not immediately aware of, play an important role in our day-to-day lives. Scientists are discovering more and more that our brain often times has a mind of its own. The brain’s default-mode network includes: “The medial orbitofrontal cortex, an area involved with self-referential thoughts, and the anterior cingulate, which Pruessner calls an ‘error monitor…. Its job is to stay on guard for mismatches between what you expect to happen and what actually happens.'”


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