Loading Events

Mindwandering: good for the mind?

  • This event has passed.

Event Navigation

Part of a series of free events brought to you by Rest & its discontents at the Mile End Art Pavilion. 

Psychiatrist Philip Asherson, radio producer Nina Garthwaite, literary scholar Shannon McBriar and psychologist Joydeep Bhattacharya, discuss mind-wandering. The event is chaired by BBC presenter Claudia Hammond. This event is led jointly by Hubbub and Wandering Minds and is funded by both Wellcome and the Volkswagen Foundation.

As recently as a decade ago, the phenomenon of ‘mind-wandering’ – which is to say: a kind of mental restlessness; an active disengagement of consciousness from the task at hand – was often considered a minor phenomenon in cognitive psychology. Research on mind-wandering was a niche interest, while its presence in public discussion hardly went beyond a kind of collective anxiety about unfocused, daydreaming adolescents.  This position has since radically changed. In recent years, a growing body of research has demonstrated that mind-wandering is key to understanding many aspects of human cognition and psychological well-being, potentially for both good and ill.

This development has been helped by a recognition that mind-wandering is not only an interesting phenomenon in its own right, but that it may be implicated in a range of psychological problems, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and educational inattention more broadly. Research on mind-wandering might thus have considerable clinical and social impacts in arenas where attention, focus, resilience and imagination are centrally at stake.

But can this be a sign of an advantage, as well as a problem? With enhanced levels of creativity suggested to reside with individuals diagnosed with ADHD, studies suggest that mind-wandering, even as a clinical symptom, may have some benefits in the world outside. In addition to clinical explorations then, there is now interest from people working in the arts, humanities and creative industries, in the wandering mind. With the experience of mind wandering under scrutiny, investigators are re-discovering past creative responses to this phenomena, as captured in art, literature and modern media. With ‘cyclical states of movement and rest’, of ‘drift’ and ‘dream’, communicated through sound and text, investigators find new ways to ‘navigate mental landscapes’, to ‘make mischief with listener’s drifting mental states’.

This event will explore these diverse perspectives and their implications for mind-wandering research. It features prominent speakers, not only from the disciplines of psychology, psychiatry and neurology, but also from the humanities and creative sectors. Speakers will discuss various ways in which mind-wandering may become problematic for people; but they will also consider how individuals might harness the wandering mind, to utilise the effects, to explore its creative potential, to manipulate its occurrence in everyday life.

About Rest & its discontents:

Rest matters to everyone. Its presence, absence and quality affects mind, body, culture and society. Rest & its discontents explores the dynamics of rest, stress, relaxation, sound, noise, work and mindwandering in an evolving laboratory of moving image, performance, drawing, poetry, data, sound, music and debate.

Rest & its discontents features the work of over 25 contributors including Nina Garthwaite’s radio for mind wanderers Default Mode Radio Network; Christian Nold’s audio installation and noise-monitoring network Prototyping a new Heathrow Airport; Tamarin Norwood’s video Sleep Studies I–V; and Patrick Coyle’s thirty-nine floating solar-powered objects alluding to the categories of labour prohibited on the Sabbath.

Rest & its discontents draws on Hubbub, a two-year residency undertaken by fifty international artists, writers, social scientists, broadcasters, humanities researchers, scientists and mental health experts in The Hub at Wellcome Collection, and led by Durham University.


Image credit: Jaka Ostrovršnik via Flickr


This event was recorded. Listen via Soundcloud:


Date & Time

4 October, 2016
7:00 pm – 8:30 pm


The Mile End Art Pavilion
Mile End Park, Clinton Road
London, E3 4QY United Kingdom

+ Google Map