Default Mode Network

Published on 5 February 2023 at 14:13


Have you heard of the Default Mode Network (DMN)? It is a network within the brain that is active when we are not attending to an external task or engaged in other focused mental activity.

Somewhat similar to the function of dreams in sleep, this activity is important in processes of daydreaming, reverie, creativity, free-associative review of experiences, and in processing social meanings. When we are focused on an external task, or a specific cognitive task, the default mode network should shut down. However, for some people this does not happen.

This can be the case with ADHD (Mollon, 2015) and also sometimes in relation to the autistic spectrum. The person may need to be attentive to an external task, but the default mode network is generating free-associative or dreamlike phenomena that interfere. Some people with an overactive  DMN are prone to unusually vivid or detailed dreamlike scenarios when they are not focused externally, or if there is insufficient sensory stimulation. This can lead to confusions about what is objectively real (stemming from the outside world) and what has arisen internally or subjectively. It may be a factor in those rare cases of genuine ‘false memory’, where a person believes an event took place in external reality when in fact it was imagined – a so-called ‘source monitoring error’.

Whilst an overactive DMN, or one that does not shut down when appropriate, can cause various difficulties, an underactive DMN, such as may be found in some numbed states of PTSD, or following intense mental pain, leads to a chronically impoverished and ‘undreamed’ state of mind.

Often it can be helpful to explain to a client the nature of the DMN and how it may be playing a part in their difficulties. It is possible to learn to achieve more control over its activity through conscious awareness. Energy balancing exercises, such as the Wayne Cook postures, hookups, and hand-ankle breathing exercises, can help. Where the DMN has shut down in response to trauma or extreme emotional pain, then the use of energy psychology modalities targeting these can be appropriate.

Phil Mollon

Psychoanalyst and Energy Psychotherapist

Mollon, P. (2015). The Disintegrating Self: Psychotherapy with Adult ADHD and Autistic Spectrum. London. Karnac.