We are familiar with earth worms, and earworms (a catchy piece of music that continually repeats through a person’s mind after it is no longer playing).
Bet you didn’t know YOU have THOUGHT WORMS
The average person will typically have more than 6,000 thoughts in a single day, new research into the human brain suggests.*
*The academic project—which was led by Jordan Poppenk, from the Department of Psychology, and Masters student Julie Tseng—outlines a method of isolating specific moments when a human is focused on a single idea, a phenomenon the researchers described as a “thought worm.”
“Can measures of thought dynamics serve a clinical function? For example, our methods could possibly support early detection of disordered thought in schizophrenia, or rapid thought in ADHD or mania. “
“Thought worms are adjacent points in a simplified representation of activity patterns in the brain,” Poppenk explains. “The brain occupies a different point in this ‘state space’ at every moment.”
“When a person moves onto a new thought, they create a new thought worm that can be detected by brain scans……Drilling into this helped us validate the idea that the appearance of a new thought worm corresponds to a thought transition.”
Researching this spontaneous thought can help test how our brain patterns and thoughts are influenced by external influences, from drinking a cup of coffee to watching a movie for a second time.
“Thought transitions have been elusive throughout the history of research on thought, which has often relied on volunteers describing their own thoughts, a method that can be notoriously unreliable,” Poppenk said. “Being able to measure the onset of new thoughts gives us a way to peek into the ‘black box’ of the resting mind—to explore the timing and pace of thoughts when a person is just daydreaming about dinner and otherwise keeping to themselves.”
In the future, the team plans to look at how cognitive dynamics “vary across the lifespan” and attempt to better understand how mentation rate—the time it takes for a person’s thought to move on—relates to their individual personal qualities. “For example, how does mentation rate relate to a person’s ability to pay attention for a long period?” Poppenk said.