The steady state visual evoked potential (SSVEP) tracks “sticky” thinking, but not more general mind-wandering

Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 16 (2022)
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For a large proportion of our daily lives, spontaneously occurring thoughts tend to disengage our minds from goal-directed thinking. Previous studies showed that EEG features such as the P3 and alpha oscillations can predict mind-wandering to some extent, but only with accuracies of around 60%. A potential candidate for improving prediction accuracy is the Steady-State Visual Evoked Potential, which is used frequently in single-trial contexts such as brain-computer interfaces as a marker of the direction of attention. In this study, we modified the sustained attention to response task that is usually employed to measure spontaneous thought to incorporate the SSVEP elicited by a 12.5-Hz flicker. We then examined whether the SSVEP could track and allow for the prediction of the stickiness and task-relatedness dimensions of spontaneous thought. Our results show that the SSVEP evoked by flickering words was able to distinguish between more and less sticky thinking but not between whether a participant was on- or off-task. This suggests that the SSVEP is able to track spontaneous thinking when it is strongly disengaged from the task but not off-task thought in general. Future research should determine the exact dimensions of spontaneous thought to which the SSVEP is most sensitive.



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