Here’s Why You Lose Your Train Of Thought

‘What was I saying?’

We’ve all had that moment when our train of thought suddenly derailed. Now science can help explain it.

Researchers at the University of California took a closer look at the brain’s electrical activity and found a specific system kicks in whenever we’re distracted by something unexpected.

It’s called the STN and is also the system used by our brain to stop or interrupt movement in our bodies.

“We’ve shown that unexpected or surprising events recruit the [STN] which, in turn, appears to influence the degree to which such surprising events affect our ongoing trains of thought,” says report author Jan Wessel.

Those who took part in the study were asked to remember a string of letters. During most of the exercises, they were played a single-frequency tone. But in some of the trials, that sound was replaced with something unexpected, like a bird chirping. Sure enough, the STN activated and flushed some of the earlier thoughts.

image of brain scan

The scientists are now keen to see if the STN plays a role in conditions characterised by distracted thoughts, like ADHD.

“It might also be potentially interesting to see if this system could be engaged deliberately – and actively used to interrupt intrusive thoughts or unwanted memories,” says Wessel.