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1.  Level of Construal, Mind Wandering, and Repetitive Thought 
Psychological Bulletin  2010;136(2):198-201.
In this reply to the comment of McVay and Kane (2010)Watkins’s (2008) elaborated control theory informs their perspective on the role of executive control in mind wandering. I argue that although in a number of places the elaborated control theory is consistent with the perspective of McVay and Kane that mind wandering represents a failure of executive control, their account makes a number of claims that are not articulated in the elaborated control theory—most notably, the hypothesis that level of construal moderates entry of thoughts into awareness. Moreover, the relevant literature suggests that the relationship between level of construal and executive control may be more complex, and may be determined by multiple factors beyond those proposed in this executive-control failure account of mind wandering. Finally, the implications of this model of mind wandering for understanding repetitive thought in general are considered, and it is proposed that examining level of executive control as a further moderating variable within elaborated control theory may be of value.
PMCID: PMC2834570
mind wandering; rumination; construal; executive
2.  Mind Wandering, Sleep Quality, Affect and Chronotype: An Exploratory Study 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(3):e91285.
Poor sleep quality impairs cognition, including executive functions and concentration, but there has been little direct research on the relationships between sleep quality and mind wandering or daydreaming. Evening chronotype is associated with poor sleep quality, more mind wandering and more daydreaming; negative affect is also a mutual correlate. This exploratory study investigated how mind wandering and daydreaming are related to different aspects of sleep quality, and whether sleep quality influences the relationships between mind wandering/daydreaming and negative affect, and mind wandering/daydreaming and chronotype. Three surveys (Ns = 213; 190; 270) were completed with Chinese adults aged 18–50, including measures of sleep quality, daytime sleepiness, mind wandering, daydreaming, chronotype and affect (positive and negative). Higher frequencies of mind wandering and daydreaming were associated with poorer sleep quality, in particular with poor subjective sleep quality and increased sleep latency, night-time disturbance, daytime dysfunction and daytime sleepiness. Poor sleep quality was found to partially mediate the relationships between daydreaming and negative affect, and mind wandering and negative affect. Additionally, low positive affect and poor sleep quality, in conjunction, fully mediated the relationships between chronotype and mind wandering, and chronotype and daydreaming. The relationships between mind wandering/daydreaming and positive affect were also moderated by chronotype, being weaker in those with a morning preference. Finally, while daytime sleepiness was positively correlated with daydream frequency, it was negatively correlated with a measure of problem-solving daydreams, indicating that more refined distinctions between different forms of daydreaming or mind wandering are warranted. Overall, the evidence is suggestive of a bi-directional relationship between poor sleep quality and mind wandering/daydreaming, which may be important in attempts to deal with sleep problems and improve sleep quality. These findings and further research on this topic may also have implications for definitions and theories of mind wandering and daydreaming.
PMCID: PMC3946719  PMID: 24609107
3.  The myth of cognitive agency: subpersonal thinking as a cyclically recurring loss of mental autonomy 
This metatheoretical paper investigates mind wandering from the perspective of philosophy of mind. It has two central claims. The first is that, on a conceptual level, mind wandering can be fruitfully described as a specific form of mental autonomy loss. The second is that, given empirical constraints, most of what we call “conscious thought” is better analyzed as a subpersonal process that more often than not lacks crucial properties traditionally taken to be the hallmark of personal-level cognition - such as mental agency, explicit, consciously experienced goal-directedness, or availability for veto control. I claim that for roughly two thirds of our conscious life-time we do not possess mental autonomy (M-autonomy) in this sense. Empirical data from research on mind wandering and nocturnal dreaming clearly show that phenomenally represented cognitive processing is mostly an automatic, non-agentive process and that personal-level cognition is an exception rather than the rule. This raises an interesting new version of the mind-body problem: How is subpersonal cognition causally related to personal-level thought? More fine-grained phenomenological descriptions for what we called “conscious thought” in the past are needed, as well as a functional decomposition of umbrella terms like “mind wandering” into different target phenomena and a better understanding of the frequent dynamic transitions between spontaneous, task-unrelated thought and meta-awareness. In an attempt to lay some very first conceptual foundations for the now burgeoning field of research on mind wandering, the third section proposes two new criteria for individuating single episodes of mind-wandering, namely, the “self-representational blink” (SRB) and a sudden shift in the phenomenological “unit of identification” (UI). I close by specifying a list of potentially innovative research goals that could serve to establish a stronger connection between mind wandering research and philosophy of mind.
PMCID: PMC3868016  PMID: 24427144
consciousness; self-consciousness; cognitive phenomenology; mental autonomy; subpersonal processes; mind wandering; meditation; epistemic agency
4.  Why Does Working Memory Capacity Predict Variation in Reading Comprehension? On the Influence of Mind Wandering and Executive Attention 
Some people are better readers than others, and this variation in comprehension ability is predicted by measures of working memory capacity (WMC). The primary goal of this study was to investigate the mediating role of mind wandering experiences in the association between WMC and normal individual differences in reading comprehension, as predicted by the executive-attention theory of WMC (e.g., Engle & Kane, 2004). We used a latent-variable, structural-equation-model approach, testing skilled adult readers on three WMC span tasks, seven varied reading comprehension tasks, and three attention-control tasks. Mind wandering was assessed using experimenter-scheduled thought probes during four different tasks (two reading, two attention-control tasks). The results support the executive-attention theory of WMC. Mind wandering across the four tasks loaded onto a single latent factor, reflecting a stable individual difference. Most importantly, mind wandering was a significant mediator in the relationship between WMC and reading comprehension, suggesting that the WMC-comprehension correlation is driven, in part, by attention control over intruding thoughts. We discuss implications for theories of WMC, attention control, and reading comprehension.
PMCID: PMC3387280  PMID: 21875246
working memory; executive control; mind wandering; individual differences; reading comprehension; attention control
5.  Dissociation of Subjectively Reported and Behaviorally Indexed Mind Wandering by EEG Rhythmic Activity 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(9):e23124.
Inattention to current activity is ubiquitous in everyday situations. Mind wandering is an example of such a state, and its related brain areas have been examined in the literature. However, there is no clear evidence regarding neural rhythmic activities linked to mind wandering. Using a vigilance task with thought sampling and electroencephalography recording, the current study simultaneously examined neural oscillatory activities related to subjectively reported and behaviorally indexed mind wandering. By implementing time-frequency analysis, we found that subjectively reported mind wandering, relative to behaviorally indexed, showed increased gamma band activity at bilateral frontal-central areas. By means of beamformer source imaging, we found subjectively reported mind wandering within the gamma band to be characterized by increased activation in bilateral frontal cortices, supplemental motor area, paracentral cortex and right inferior temporal cortex in comparison to behaviorally indexed mind wandering. These findings dissociate subjectively reported and behaviorally indexed mind wandering and suggest that a higher degree of executive control processes are engaged in subjectively reported mind wandering.
PMCID: PMC3168437  PMID: 21915257
6.  Attentional decoupling while pursuing intentions: a form of mind wandering? 
In the current study, participants performed an ongoing lexical decision task (LDT) in which they had to classify letter strings as words or non-words. In intention conditions, they also had to encode a postponed intention to remember to make a different response if a pre-specified cue appeared. Attempting to replicate an important finding from Cohen et al. (2008), the interest was in examining how varying cognitive load associated with an intention influences attention to the ongoing task (measured by reaction times). Typically, disengaging from a primary task is perceived as negative as it can lead to performance decrements, however, if disengaging from a primary task helps one to accomplish a desired future goal, then these attentional shifts may in fact be constructive. Results replicated those of Cohen et al. (2008) and showed that participants were very flexible in how they managed attention in the ongoing LDT. Reaction time costs emerged when cognitive load was high and solely for word trials (i.e., not for non-word trials). The implications for mind wandering are that, while our attention may wander when stimuli are present that trigger a suspended or unfulfilled goal, we are better able to stay on task when the stimuli are less goal relevant. Therefore, the decoupling process (e.g., Schooler et al., 2011) might be initiated when postponed goals are accompanied by a high degree of cognitive load and when external stimuli are present that relate to that goal.
PMCID: PMC3787394  PMID: 24101913
prospective memory; memory for intentions; managing attention; ongoing task costs; mind wandering
7.  Drifting from Slow to “D’oh!” Working Memory Capacity and Mind Wandering Predict Extreme Reaction Times and Executive-Control Errors 
A combined experimental, individual-differences, and thought-sampling study tested the predictions of executive attention (e.g., Engle & Kane, 2004) and coordinative binding (e.g., Oberauer, Süß, Wilhelm, & Sander, 2007) theories of working memory capacity (WMC). We assessed 288 subjects’ WMC and their performance and mind-wandering rates during a sustained-attention task; subjects completed either a go/no-go version requiring executive control over habit, or a vigilance version that did not. We further combined the data with those from McVay and Kane (2009) to: (1) gauge the contributions of WMC and attentional lapses to the worst-performance rule and the tail, or τ parameter, of response time (RT) distributions; (2) assess which parameters from a quantitative evidence-accumulation RT model were predicted by WMC and mind-wandering reports, and (3) consider intra-subject RT patterns – particularly, speeding – as potential objective markers of mind wandering. We found that WMC predicted action and thought control in only some conditions, that attentional lapses (indicated by TUT reports and drift-rate variability in evidence accumulation) contributed to τ, performance accuracy, and WMC’s association with them, and that mind-wandering experiences were not predicted by trial-to-trial RT changes, and so they cannot always be inferred from objective performance measures.
PMCID: PMC3395723  PMID: 22004270
working memory; executive control; mind wandering; individual differences; reaction time
8.  Conducting the Train of Thought: Working Memory Capacity, Goal Neglect, and Mind Wandering in an Executive-Control Task 
Based on the executive-attention theory of working memory capacity (WMC; e.g., Kane, Conway, Hambrick, & Engle, 2007) we tested the relations among WMC, mind wandering, and goal neglect in a sustained-attention-to-response task (SART; a go/no-go task). In three SART versions, making conceptual versus perceptual processing demands, subjects periodically indicated their thought content when probed following rare no-go targets. SART processing demands did not affect mind-wandering rates, but mind-wandering rates varied with WMC and predicted goal-neglect errors in the task; furthermore, mind-wandering rates partially mediated the WMC-SART relation, indicating that WMC-related differences in goal neglect were due, in part, to variation in the control of conscious thought.
PMCID: PMC2750806  PMID: 19210090
9.  Tracking the train of thought from the laboratory into everyday life: An experience-sampling study of mind wandering across controlled and ecological contexts 
Psychonomic bulletin & review  2009;16(5):857-863.
In an experience-sampling study that bridged laboratory, ecological, and individual-differences approaches to mind-wandering research, 72 subjects completed an executive-control task with periodic thought probes (reported by McVay & Kane, 2009) and then carried PDAs for a week that signaled them 8 times daily to report immediately whether their thoughts were off-task. Subjects who reported more mind wandering during the laboratory task endorsed more mind-wandering experiences during everyday life (and were more likely to report worries as off-task thought content). We also conceptually replicated laboratory findings that mind wandering predicts task performance: subjects rated their daily-life performance to be impaired when they reported off-task thoughts, with greatest impairment when subjects’ mind wandering lacked meta-consciousness. The propensity to mind-wander appears to be a stable cognitive characteristic and seems to predict performance difficulties in daily life, just as it does in the laboratory.
PMCID: PMC2760023  PMID: 19815789
10.  Children’s mental time travel during mind wandering 
The prospective bias is a salient feature of mind wandering in healthy adults, yet little is known about the temporal focus of children’s mind wandering. In the present study, (I) we developed the temporal focus of mind wandering questionnaire for school-age children (TFMWQ-C), a 12-item scale with good test–retest reliability and construct validity. (II) The criterion validity was tested by thought sampling in both choice reaction time task and working memory task. A positive correlation was found between the temporal focus measured by the questionnaire and the one adopted during task-unrelated thoughts (TUTs) by thought sampling probes, especially in the trait level of future-oriented mind wandering. At the same time, children who experienced more TUTs tended to show worse behavioral performance during tasks. (III) The children in both tasks experienced more future-oriented TUTs than past-oriented ones, which was congruent with the results observed in adults; however, in contrast with previous research on adults, the prospective bias was not influenced by task demands. Together these results indicate that the prospective bias of mind wandering has emerged since the school-age (9∼13 years old), and that the relationship between mental time travel (MTT) during mind wandering and the use of cognitive resources differs between children and adults. Our study provides new insights into how this interesting feature of mind wandering may adaptively contribute to the development of children’s MTT.
PMCID: PMC4140076  PMID: 25191301
mental time travel; mind wandering; task-unrelated thought; spontaneous thought; prospective cognition
11.  Dispatching the wandering mind? Toward a laboratory method for cuing “spontaneous” off-task thought 
Cognitive psychologists and neuroscientists study most phenomena of attention by measuring subjects' overt responses to discrete environmental stimuli that can be manipulated to test competing theories. The mind wandering experience, however, cannot be locally instigated by cleverly engineered stimuli. Investigators must therefore rely on correlational and observational methods to understand subjects' flow of thought, which is only occasionally and indirectly monitored. In an effort toward changing this state of affairs, we present four experiments that develop a method for inducing mind wandering episodes—on demand—in response to task-embedded cues. In an initial laboratory session, subjects described their personal goals and concerns across several life domains (amid some filler questionnaires). In a second session, 48 h later, subjects completed a go/no-go task in which they responded to the perceptual features of words; unbeknownst to subjects, some stimulus words were presented in triplets to represent the personal concerns they had described in session 1. Thought probes appearing shortly after these personal-goal triplets indicated that, compared to control triplets, priming subjects' concerns increased mind wandering rate by about 3–4%. We argue that this small effect is, nonetheless, a promising development toward the pursuit of an experimentally informed, theory-driven science of mind wandering.
PMCID: PMC3760067  PMID: 24027542
mind wandering; consciousness; goal priming; attention; current concerns
12.  Can mind-wandering be timeless? Atemporal focus and aging in mind-wandering paradigms 
Recent research has examined how often mind-wandering occurs about past vs. future events. However, mind-wandering may also be atemporal, although previous investigations of this possibility have not yielded consistent results. Indeed, it is unclear what proportion of mind-wandering is atemporal, and also how an atemporal response option would affect the future-oriented bias often reported during low-demand tasks used to measure mind-wandering. The present study examined self-reported (Experiment 1) and probe-caught (Experiment 2) mind-wandering using the low-demand Sustained Attention to Response Task (SART) in younger (18–30) and older (50–73) adults in an experimental paradigm developed to measure mind-wandering using Amazon's Mechanical Turk (Mturk). Across self-reported and probe-caught mind-wandering, the atemporal response option was used at least as frequently as past or future mind-wandering options. Although older adults reported far fewer mind-wandering events, they showed a very similar temporal pattern to younger adults. Most importantly, inclusion of the atemporal report option affected performance on the SART and selectively eliminated the prospective bias in self-reported mind-wandering, but not in probe-caught mind-wandering. These results suggest that both young and older participants are often not thinking of past or future events when mind-wandering, but are thinking of events that cannot easily be categorized as either.
PMCID: PMC3797394  PMID: 24137147
mind-wandering; task-unrelated thought; temporal focus; aging; SART; prospection; retrospection
13.  Mind-blanking: when the mind goes away 
People often feel like their minds and their bodies are in different places. Far from an exotic experience, this phenomenon seems to be a ubiquitous facet of human life (e.g., Killingsworth and Gilbert, 2010). Many times, people's minds seem to go “somewhere else”—attention becomes disconnected from perception, and people's minds wander to times and places removed from the current environment (e.g., Schooler et al., 2004). At other times, however, people's minds may seem to go nowhere at all—they simply disappear. This mental state—mind-blanking—may represent an extreme decoupling of perception and attention, one in which attention fails to bring any stimuli into conscious awareness. In the present research, we outline the properties of mind-blanking, differentiating this mental state from other mental states in terms of phenomenological experience, behavioral outcomes, and underlying cognitive processes. Seven experiments suggest that when the mind seems to disappear, there are times when we have simply failed to monitor its whereabouts—and there are times when it is actually gone.
PMCID: PMC3784796  PMID: 24098287
consciousness; attention; perception; mind-wandering; mind-blanking; stimulus-independent thought; task-unrelated thought; reading comprehension
14.  In pursuit of off-task thought: mind wandering-performance trade-offs while reading aloud and color naming 
The present study investigated whether the frequency of probe-caught mind wandering varied by condition and had any impact on performance in both an item-by-item reading aloud task and a blocked version of the classic Stroop task. Across both experiments, mind wandering rates were found to be quite high and were negatively associated with vocal onset latencies and error rates across conditions. Despite this however, we observed poor correspondence between the effects of task demands on mind wandering rates and the effects of mind wandering on primary task performance. We discuss these findings in relation to attentional resource accounts of mind wandering and suggest that individuals can adjust the relative distribution of executive/attentional resources between internal and external goals in a way that maximizes off-task thought while preserving primary task performance.
PMCID: PMC3684797  PMID: 23785351
attention; mind wandering; reading; stroop; performance
15.  Phenomenology of future-oriented mind-wandering episodes 
Recent research suggests that prospective and non-prospective forms of mind-wandering possess distinct properties, yet little is known about what exactly differentiates between future-oriented and non-future-oriented mind-wandering episodes. In the present study, we used multilevel exploratory factor analyses (MEFA) to examine the factorial structure of various phenomenological dimensions of mind-wandering, and we then investigated whether future-oriented mind-wandering episodes differ from other classes of mind-wandering along the identified factors. We found that the phenomenological dimensions of mind-wandering are structured in four factors: representational format (inner speech vs. visual imagery), personal relevance, realism/concreteness, and structuration. Prospective mind-wandering differed from non-prospective mind-wandering along each of these factors. Specifically, future-oriented mind-wandering episodes involved inner speech to a greater extent, were more personally relevant, more realistic/concrete, and more often part of structured sequences of thoughts. These results show that future-oriented mind-wandering possesses a unique phenomenological signature and provide new insights into how this particular form of mind-wandering may adaptively contribute to autobiographical planning.
PMCID: PMC3712143  PMID: 23882236
mind-wandering; phenomenology; planning; future thinking; factorial structure
16.  The Persistence of Thought: Evidence for a Role of Working Memory in the Maintenance of Task-Unrelated Thinking 
Psychological Science  2012;23(4):375-380.
Tasks that tax working memory (WM) have consistently been found to decrease mind wandering. These findings may indicate mind wandering requires WM resources for maintenance and cannot persist when the resources are being consumed by a task. An alternative explanation for these findings, however, is that mind wandering persists without the support of WM but is nonetheless decreased during any demanding task because good performance requires the restriction of attention from task-unrelated thought (TUT). The present study tests these two competing hypotheses by asking whether individuals with greater WM resources mind wander more during an undemanding task, as would only be predicted by theory that WM supports TUT. We found that higher WM capacity individuals reported more TUT in undemanding tasks, suggesting that WM enables the maintenance of mind wandering.
PMCID: PMC3328662  PMID: 22421205
17.  Are Alcohol Expectancies Associations? Comment on Moss and Albery (2009) 
Psychological bulletin  2010;136(1):12-20.
A. C. Moss and I. P. Albery (2009) presented a dual-process model of the alcohol-behavior link, integrating alcohol expectancy and alcohol myopia theory. Their integrative theory rests on a number of assumptions including, first, that alcohol expectancies are associations that can be activated automatically by an alcohol-relevant context, and second, that alcohol selectively reduces propositional reasoning. As a result, behavior comes under the control of associative processes after alcohol consumption. We agree with the second but not with the first assumption, based on theoretical and empirical arguments. Although in some cases expectancies may involve a simple association, they are propositional in nature. We demonstrate that this assertion is supported by existing literature cited in Moss and Albery. Moreover, six recent studies consistently demonstrated that under circumstances where executive control is impaired (either as a stable individual difference or under the acute influence of alcohol), associative processes, over and above expectancies, predict alcohol-related behavior. Taken together, the evidence strongly suggests a fundamental distinction between expectancies and associations in memory: effects of propositional expectancies and executive functions are impaired under the acute influence of alcohol but memory associations are not. This difference in perspective not only has theoretical implications, but also leads to different predictions regarding acute alcohol effects in society.
PMCID: PMC3468318  PMID: 20063922
Dual-Process Theories; Automatic and Controlled Processes; Acute Alcohol Effects
18.  Young and restless: validation of the Mind-Wandering Questionnaire (MWQ) reveals disruptive impact of mind-wandering for youth 
Mind-wandering is the focus of extensive investigation, yet until recently there has been no validated scale to directly measure trait levels of task-unrelated thought. Scales commonly used to assess mind-wandering lack face validity, measuring related constructs such as daydreaming or behavioral errors. Here we report four studies validating a Mind-Wandering Questionnaire (MWQ) across college, high school, and middle school samples. The 5-item scale showed high internal consistency, as well as convergent validity with existing measures of mind-wandering and related constructs. Trait levels of mind-wandering, as measured by the MWQ, were correlated with task-unrelated thought measured by thought sampling during a test of reading comprehension. In both middle school and high school samples, mind-wandering during testing was associated with worse reading comprehension. By contrast, elevated trait levels of mind-wandering predicted worse mood, less life-satisfaction, greater stress, and lower self-esteem. By extending the use of thought sampling to measure mind-wandering among adolescents, our findings also validate the use of this methodology with younger populations. Both the MWQ and thought sampling indicate that mind-wandering is a pervasive—and problematic—influence on the performance and well-being of adolescents.
PMCID: PMC3753539  PMID: 23986739
mind-wandering; attention; reading comprehension; K-12 education; well-being
19.  The Cerebral Cost of Breathing: An fMRI Case-Study in Congenital Central Hypoventilation Syndrome 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(9):e107850.
Certain motor activities - like walking or breathing - present the interesting property of proceeding either automatically or under voluntary control. In the case of breathing, brainstem structures located in the medulla are in charge of the automatic mode, whereas cortico-subcortical brain networks - including various frontal lobe areas - subtend the voluntary mode. We speculated that the involvement of cortical activity during voluntary breathing could impact both on the “resting state” pattern of cortical-subcortical connectivity, and on the recruitment of executive functions mediated by the frontal lobe. In order to test this prediction we explored a patient suffering from central congenital hypoventilation syndrome (CCHS), a very rare developmental condition secondary to brainstem dysfunction. Typically, CCHS patients demonstrate efficient cortically-controlled breathing while awake, but require mechanically-assisted ventilation during sleep to overcome the inability of brainstem structures to mediate automatic breathing. We used simultaneous EEG-fMRI recordings to compare patterns of brain activity between these two types of ventilation during wakefulness. As compared with spontaneous breathing (SB), mechanical ventilation (MV) restored the default mode network (DMN) associated with self-consciousness, mind-wandering, creativity and introspection in healthy subjects. SB on the other hand resulted in a specific increase of functional connectivity between brainstem and frontal lobe. Behaviorally, the patient was more efficient in cognitive tasks requiring executive control during MV than during SB, in agreement with her subjective reports in everyday life. Taken together our results provide insight into the cognitive and neural costs of spontaneous breathing in one CCHS patient, and suggest that MV during waking periods may free up frontal lobe resources, and make them available for cognitive recruitment. More generally, this study reveals how the active maintenance of cortical control over a continuous motor activity impacts on brain functioning and cognition.
PMCID: PMC4182437  PMID: 25268234
20.  Mindfulness starts with the body: somatosensory attention and top-down modulation of cortical alpha rhythms in mindfulness meditation 
Using a common set of mindfulness exercises, mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) and mindfulness based cognitive therapy (MBCT) have been shown to reduce distress in chronic pain and decrease risk of depression relapse. These standardized mindfulness (ST-Mindfulness) practices predominantly require attending to breath and body sensations. Here, we offer a novel view of ST-Mindfulness's somatic focus as a form of training for optimizing attentional modulation of 7–14 Hz alpha rhythms that play a key role in filtering inputs to primary sensory neocortex and organizing the flow of sensory information in the brain. In support of the framework, we describe our previous finding that ST-Mindfulness enhanced attentional regulation of alpha in primary somatosensory cortex (SI). The framework allows us to make several predictions. In chronic pain, we predict somatic attention in ST-Mindfulness “de-biases” alpha in SI, freeing up pain-focused attentional resources. In depression relapse, we predict ST-Mindfulness's somatic attention competes with internally focused rumination, as internally focused cognitive processes (including working memory) rely on alpha filtering of sensory input. Our computational model predicts ST-Mindfulness enhances top-down modulation of alpha by facilitating precise alterations in timing and efficacy of SI thalamocortical inputs. We conclude by considering how the framework aligns with Buddhist teachings that mindfulness starts with “mindfulness of the body.” Translating this theory into neurophysiology, we hypothesize that with its somatic focus, mindfulness' top-down alpha rhythm modulation in SI enhances gain control which, in turn, sensitizes practitioners to better detect and regulate when the mind wanders from its somatic focus. This enhanced regulation of somatic mind-wandering may be an important early stage of mindfulness training that leads to enhanced cognitive regulation and metacognition.
PMCID: PMC3570934  PMID: 23408771
alpha rhythm; attention; chronic pain; depression relapse; mindfulness meditation; somatosensory cortex; thalamocortical loop
21.  Mind wandering and motor control: off-task thinking disrupts the online adjustment of behavior 
Mind wandering episodes have been construed as periods of “stimulus-independent” thought, where our minds are decoupled from the external sensory environment. In two experiments, we used behavioral and event-related potential (ERP) measures to determine whether mind wandering episodes can also be considered as periods of “response-independent” thought, with our minds disengaged from adjusting our behavioral outputs. In the first experiment, participants performed a motor tracking task and were occasionally prompted to report whether their attention was “on-task” or “mind wandering.” We found greater tracking error in periods prior to mind wandering vs. on-task reports. To ascertain whether this finding was due to attenuation in visual perception per se vs. a disruptive effect of mind wandering on performance monitoring, we conducted a second experiment in which participants completed a time-estimation task. They were given feedback on the accuracy of their estimations while we recorded their EEG, and were also occasionally asked to report their attention state. We found that the sensitivity of behavior and the P3 ERP component to feedback signals were significantly reduced just prior to mind wandering vs. on-task attentional reports. Moreover, these effects co-occurred with decreases in the error-related negativity elicited by feedback signals (fERN), a direct measure of behavioral feedback assessment in cortex. Our findings suggest that the functional consequences of mind wandering are not limited to just the processing of incoming stimulation per se, but extend as well to the control and adjustment of behavior.
PMCID: PMC3522104  PMID: 23248596
mind wandering; experience sampling; motor control; visuomotor tracking task; fERN; performance monitoring; time-estimation
22.  Mind wandering at the fingertips: automatic parsing of subjective states based on response time variability 
Research from the last decade has successfully used two kinds of thought reports in order to assess whether the mind is wandering: random thought-probes and spontaneous reports. However, none of these two methods allows any assessment of the subjective state of the participant between two reports. In this paper, we present a step by step elaboration and testing of a continuous index, based on response time variability within Sustained Attention to Response Tasks (N = 106, for a total of 10 conditions). We first show that increased response time variability predicts mind wandering. We then compute a continuous index of response time variability throughout full experiments and show that the temporal position of a probe relative to the nearest local peak of the continuous index is predictive of mind wandering. This suggests that our index carries information about the subjective state of the subject even when he or she is not probed, and opens the way for on-line tracking of mind wandering. Finally we proceed a step further and infer the internal attentional states on the basis of the variability of response times. To this end we use the Hidden Markov Model framework, which allows us to estimate the durations of on-task and off-task episodes.
PMCID: PMC3763218  PMID: 24046753
mind wandering; subjective report; response times variability; Hidden Markov Models; time-course analysis
23.  Aging Ebbs the Flow of Thought: Adult Age Differences in Mind Wandering, Executive Control, and Self-Evaluation 
Acta psychologica  2012;142(1):136-147.
Two experiments examined the relations among adult aging, mind wandering, and executive-task performance, following from surprising laboratory findings that older adults report fewer task-unrelated thoughts (TUTs) than do younger adults (e.g., Giambra, 1989; Jackson & Balota, 2011). Because older adults may experience more ability- and performance-related worry during cognitive tasks in the laboratory, and because these evaluative thoughts (known as task-related interference, “TRI”) might be sometimes misclassified by subjects as task-related, we asked subjects to distinguish task-related thoughts from TRI and TUTs when probed during ongoing tasks. In Experiment 1, younger and older adults completed either a go/no-go or a vigilance version of a sustained attention to response task (SART). Older adults reported more TRI and fewer TUTs than did younger adults while also performing more accurately. In Experiment 2, subjects completed either a 1- or 2-back version of the n-back task. Older adults again reported more TRI and fewer TUTs than younger adults in both versions, while performing better than younger adults in the 1-back and worse in the 2-back. Across experiments, older adults’ reduced TUT rates were independent of performance relative to younger adults. And, although older adults consistently reported more TRI and less mind wandering than did younger adults, overall they reported more on-task thoughts. TRI cannot, therefore, account completely for prior reports of decreasing TUTs with aging. We discuss the implications of these results for various theoretical approaches to mind-wandering.
PMCID: PMC3545047  PMID: 23261422
aging; mind wandering; executive control; consciousness; working memory
24.  Nondirective meditation activates default mode network and areas associated with memory retrieval and emotional processing 
Nondirective meditation techniques are practiced with a relaxed focus of attention that permits spontaneously occurring thoughts, images, sensations, memories, and emotions to emerge and pass freely, without any expectation that mind wandering should abate. These techniques are thought to facilitate mental processing of emotional experiences, thereby contributing to wellness and stress management. The present study assessed brain activity by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in 14 experienced practitioners of Acem meditation in two experimental conditions. In the first, nondirective meditation was compared to rest. Significantly increased activity was detected in areas associated with attention, mind wandering, retrieval of episodic memories, and emotional processing. In the second condition, participants carried out concentrative practicing of the same meditation technique, actively trying to avoid mind wandering. The contrast nondirective meditation > concentrative practicing was characterized by higher activity in the right medial temporal lobe (parahippocampal gyrus and amygdala). In conclusion, the present results support the notion that nondirective meditation, which permits mind wandering, involves more extensive activation of brain areas associated with episodic memories and emotional processing, than during concentrative practicing or regular rest.
PMCID: PMC3935386  PMID: 24616684
fMRI; meditation; attention; nondirective; brain; default mode network; mind wandering
25.  Using the Daydreaming Frequency Scale to Investigate the Relationships between Mind-Wandering, Psychological Well-Being, and Present-Moment Awareness 
Recent findings have shown that mind-wandering – the occurrence of stimulus-independent and task-unrelated thoughts – is associated with negative affect and lower psychological well-being. However, it remains unclear whether this relationship is due to the occurrence of mind-wandering per se or to the fact that people who mind wander more tend to be generally less attentive to present-moment experience. In three studies, we first validate a French translation of a retrospective self-report questionnaire widely used to assess the general occurrence of mind-wandering in daily life – the Daydreaming Frequency Scale. Using this questionnaire, we then show that the relationship between mind-wandering frequency and psychological distress is fully accounted for by individual differences in dispositional mindful awareness and encoding style. These findings suggest that it may not be mind-wandering per se that is responsible for psychological distress, but rather the general tendency to be less aware and attentive to the present-moment. Thus, although mind-wandering and present-moment awareness are related constructs, they are not reducible to one another, and are distinguishable in terms of their relationship with psychological well-being.
PMCID: PMC3457083  PMID: 23055995
mind-wandering; daydreaming; mindful awareness; encoding style; psychological distress; well-being

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