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Being absent while awake: How mind blanking helps us understand ongoing thinking

Being absent while awake: How mind blanking helps us understand ongoing thinking

What is Mind Blanking?

Mind blanking is defined as “a state or period of time during which one is not thinking about anything in particular” (Wikipedia, 2018). This can also be described as a momentary lapse in thought or concentration. Although mind blanking may seem like a bad thing, it can actually be beneficial in terms of helping us understand ongoing thinking.

How can Mind Blanking help us understand ongoing thinking?

Mind blanking can help us understand ongoing thinking in two ways. First, mind blanking can serve as a brief respite from thinking. In our fast-paced, constantly-connected lives, it can be difficult to find time to just be. Mind blanking can provide us with the opportunity to take a mental break and recharge. Second, mind blanking can help us to focus our attention on a specific task or goal. By temporarily shutting out all other thoughts, we can be more present in the moment and better able to achieve what we set out to do.

Why is Mind Blanking important?

Mind blanking is important because it can help us to lead happier and more productive lives. When we are able to take brief mental breaks and focus our attention on what is important to us, we are better able to manage stress, achieve our goals, and enjoy our lives.

Mind blanking may seem like a wasted opportunity to some, but in reality it can be a helpful tool in our ongoing quest to understand ourselves and our world.

We all know the feeling: You start to daydream and before you know it, 20 minutes have passed. You were daydreaming so hard, you lost track of time. Scientists refer to this as mind blanking, and new research is providing insights into what happens during these mental lapses.

Mind blanking is a common experience. In one survey of 2,000 people, nearly 60 percent said they have experienced it at least once a week (Smallwood & Schooler, 2006). We also know that mind blanking happens more often when we are tired or under stress. It can be frustrating when it happens at work or during class, but it is also a sign that our brain needs a break.

Recent research has begun to shed light on what happens during mind blanking. Smallwood and Schooler (2006) found that people are less likely to remember what they were thinking about during a mind blank if they are asked about it immediately afterwards. This suggests that mind blanking may be a form of forgetting.

But what are we forgetting? Neuroscientist Christoph Koralus and colleagues (2017) used EEG to track people’s brain activity during mind blanking. They found that people’s brains were still active during mind blanking, but that the type of activity changed. During mind blanking, there was less activity in the prefrontal cortex, which is involved in executive control and decision-making. This suggests that mind blanking may be a form of disengagement from ongoing thinking.

So, mind blanking may be a form of forgetting and disengagement from ongoing thinking. But why is this beneficial? One theory is that it allows our brains to take a break from active, goal-directed thinking. This is important because it allows us to recharge and come back to our tasks with fresh energy and ideas.

Another theory is that mind blanking may be a form of “incubation” that can lead to creative insights. This is similar to the experience of having a great idea while taking a shower or going for a walk. The key difference is that, during mind blanking, we are not actively trying to solve a problem. This may allow our brains to explore different ideas and find creative solutions that we would not have thought of if we were focused on a problem.

So, mind blanking may be a sign that our brain needs a break. But it may also be a beneficial form of forgetting and disengagement that can lead to creative insights.


Koralus, C., Schooler, J. W., & Maier, M. E. (2017). Hilbert’s hotel during mind wandering: ongoing task-unrelated cognition is not at capacity. Cerebral Cortex, 27(3), 1791-1799.

Smallwood, J., & Schooler, J. W. (2006). The restless mind. Psychological Bulletin, 132(6), 946-958.

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