We’re in a resting state when we’re not performing a task, when the brain is “at ease, sir”, doing its thing in the default mode. Hurlburt and colleagues just published a paper comparing “resting state” in two conditions: in an MRI scanner and the natural environment of the subjects.  They found that resting states have five characteristics: inner seeing (visual images), inner speaking, sensory awareness, feelings (i.e., emotions), and unsymbolized thinking (wordless, imageless, but still doing something – like wondering or questioning or realizing – but without words).

In this study, the five subjects were beeped at random times to provide immediate reports of their experience. The frequency of resting-state experiences varied according to the environment. Across subjects, inner seeing occurred more often in the scanner than in natural environments (4 of 5 subjects), as did inner speaking (5 of 5), and unsymbolized thinking (5 of 5). Sensory awareness (3 of 5) and feelings (5 of 5) occurred more in natural environments than in the scanner.

The average amount of time spent in different types of resting-state experiences also varied according to environment. In natural environments, sensory awareness (mean: 65.6%) andfeelings (mean: 29.4%) were experienced more often than inner speaking (mean: 18.2%). In the scanner, inner speaking was more common than feelings: mean of 29.0%, compared to 8.4%. (Note: percentages do not add to 100 because experiences can have more than one characteristic.)

The authors also found substantial individual differences in resting-state experience across their subjects. For example, between subjects, the resting-state frequency of sensory awareness ranged from 19 to 78%; inner seeing ranged from 19 to 67%; and, inner speaking ranged from 14 to 53%. Hurlburt et al found similarly wide ranges in the natural environment. However, there was substantial within-subject consistency: each subject’s experiential frequencies in the natural environment were similar in the scanner.

Interestingly, most of the subjects’ resting-state experiences were not verbal nor did they involve planning for the future – regardless of environment (scanner or natural).


What goes on in the resting-state? A qualitative glimpse into resting-state experience in the scanner Hurlburt, R. T., Alderson-Day, B., Fernyhough, C.s and Kühn, S. Frontiers in Psychology www.frontiersin.org October 2015 Volume6 Article1535 http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01535