Variability in the wandering mind
The brain and mind wander to a rich variety of experiences that can either positively or negatively impact wellbeing. To capture this variability within and across individuals, scientists need efficient tools to discover relationships between the brain and experience. Using online experience sampling during fMRI, we have previously shown how different brain networks are engaged during stimulus-independent and task-unrelated thoughts (Kucyi et al., 2013; 2014; 2016; 2021). Currently, we are developing a real-time fMRI analysis technique which involves monitoring an individual's spontaneous brain activity to predict the characteristics of their ongoing experiences. This approach may allow us to better understand variability in the wandering brain within and between individuals and across healthy and clinical contexts.
Network-based neuromodulation of attention
Attention fluctuates continuously in daily life, even when someone may be trying their best to stay focused. Using fMRI and electrophysiology, we have previously shown how this waxing and waning of attention is reflected in the spontaneous activity and interactions of brain networks such as the default mode, dorsal attention and salience networks (Kucyi et al.; 2017; 2020a; 2020b). Armed with this knowledge, we are developing network-based neuromodulation tools that could improve the ability to pay attention. Supported by an R21 grant from the National Institute of Mental Health, we are using simultaneous EEG-fMRI to examine a neurofeedback intervention that involves the default mode and dorsal attention networks. We are further examining whether these networks can be tracked with EEG alone (in lieu of fMRI) to support the development of portable and scalable systems.
Neural mechanisms of spontaneous experience
The study of of spontaneous thought, mind wandering, and rumination in the brain is a relatively new topic in cognitive and clinical neuroscience. Despite the prominence of these experiences in daily life, and the critical relevance to mental health, scientists currently understand very little about the neural mechanisms. Using multimodal techniques such as human intracranial electrophysiology, neurostimulation, and fMRI, we are exploring new hypotheses about how these experiences are generated from large-scale brain networks, hippocampal memory systems, and neurochemical systems (discussed in Kucyi et al., 2018a; 2018b). A deeper understanding of the neural mechanisms could enable development of neuromodulation interventions that are designed to directly target the brain activity that drives the disruptions of spontaneous experience (for example, in disorders of mood and anxiety).