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Surprising Science

What Happens to the Brain When the Mind is at Rest?

Over the last few years, researchers have scanned brains while they are at rest. They have found that the brain continues to function at a very high rate even when not occupied with tasks. 

What’s the Latest Development?

Whether daydreaming or mediating, it’s normal—even unavoidable—that our minds relax a little now and then. And over the last few years, scientists have begun examining what a brain at rest looks like in MRI scans: “Some circuits must remain active; they control automatic functions such as breathing and heart rate. But much of the rest of the brain continues to chug away as the mind naturally wanders…” During inactive states, blood flow to the brain dips just 5-10% compared to when researchers are running task-based experiments that require subjects to concentrate on a specific target. 

What’s the Big Idea?

Resting states have been shown to be an important stage in creative processes, allowing the mind to introduce and consolidate seemingly unrelated material to the question at hand. Scientists behind brain imaging research speculate on other possible functions: “Resting activity might be keeping the brain’s connections running when they are not in use. Or it could be helping to prime the brain to respond to future stimuli, or to maintain relationships between areas that often work together to perform tasks. It may even consolidate memories or information absorbed during normal activity.”

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