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.
mind wandering; rumination; construal; executive
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.
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.
working memory; executive control; mind wandering; individual differences; reading comprehension; attention control
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.
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.
attention; mind wandering; reading; stroop; performance
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.
consciousness; attention; perception; mind-wandering; mind-blanking; stimulus-independent thought; task-unrelated thought; reading comprehension
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.
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.
mind-wandering; phenomenology; planning; future thinking; factorial structure
Mind wandering has recently received extensive research because it reveals an important characteristic of our consciousness: conscious experience can arise internally and involuntarily. As the first attempt to examine mind wandering in a non-western population, the present study used experience-sampling method to collect the daily momentary mind wandering episodes in a Chinese sample. The results showed that mind wandering was also a ubiquitous experience among the Chinese population, and, instead of emerging out of nowhere, it was often elicited by external or internal cues. Furthermore, most of the mind wandering episodes involved prospective thinking and were closely related to one’s personal life. Finally, the frequency of mind wandering was influenced by some contextual factors. These results taken together suggest that mind wandering plays an important role in helping people to maintain a continuous feeling of “self” and to prepare them to cope with the upcoming events.
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.
working memory; executive control; mind wandering; individual differences; reaction time
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.
mind-wandering; daydreaming; mindful awareness; encoding style; psychological distress; well-being
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.
mind-wandering; task-unrelated thought; temporal focus; aging; SART; prospection; retrospection
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.
mind-wandering; attention; reading comprehension; K-12 education; well-being
Nearly 60 years ago, Jerome L. Singer launched a groundbreaking research program into daydreaming (Singer, 1955, 1975, 2009) that presaged and laid the foundation for virtually every major strand of mind wandering research active today (Antrobus, 1999; Klinger, 1999, 2009). Here we review Singer’s enormous contribution to the field, which includes insights, methodologies, and tools still in use today, and trace his enduring legacy as revealed in the recent proliferation of mind wandering studies. We then turn to the central theme in Singer’s work, the adaptive nature of positive constructive daydreaming, which was a revolutionary idea when Singer began his work in the 1950s and remains underreported today. Last, we propose a new approach to answering the enduring question: Why does mind wandering persist and occupy so much of our time, as much as 50% of our waking time according to some estimates, if it is as costly as most studies suggest?
daydreaming; positive constructive daydreaming; volitional daydreaming; mind wandering; Jerome L. Singer; creativity; intelligence; default mode network
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.
mind wandering; subjective report; response times variability; Hidden Markov Models; time-course analysis
A unique human characteristic is our ability to mind wander – a state in which we are free to engage in thoughts that are not directly tied to sensations and perceptions from our immediate physical environment. From a neurocognitive perspective, it has been proposed that during mind wandering, our executive resources are decoupled from the external environment and directed to these internal thoughts. In this review, we examine an underappreciated aspect of this phenomenon – attenuation of sensory-motor processing – from two perspectives. First, we describe the range of widespread sensory, cognitive and motor processes attenuated during mind wandering states, and how this impacts our neurocognitive processing of external events. We then consider sensory-motor attenuation in a class of clinical neurocognitive disorders that have ties to pathological patterns of decoupling, reviews suggesting that mind wandering and these clinical states may share a common mechanism of sensory-motor attenuation. Taken together, these observations suggest the sensory-motor consequences of decoupled thinking are integral to normal and pathological neurocognitive states.
mind wandering; decoupling; sensory attenuation; cognitive attenuation; executive resources; neurocognitive pathologies
One mechanism that has been hypothesized to contribute to older adults’ changes in cognitive performance is goal neglect or impairment in maintaining task set across time. Mind-wandering and task-unrelated thought may underlie these potential age-related changes. The present study investigated age-related changes in mind-wandering in three different versions of the Sustained Attention to Response task (SART), along with self-reported mind-wandering during a reading for comprehension task. In the SART, both younger and older adults produced similar levels of faster reaction times before No-Go errors of commission, whereas, older adults produced disproportionate post-error slowing. Subjective self-reports of mind-wandering recorded during the SART and the reading task indicated that older adults were less likely to report mind-wandering than younger adults. Discussion focuses on cognitive and motivational mechanisms that may account for older adults’ relatively low levels of reported mind-wandering.
mind-wandering; attention; aging; SART; reading
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.
Dual-Process Theories; Automatic and Controlled Processes; Acute Alcohol Effects
When people engage in mind wandering they drift away from a task toward their inner thoughts and feelings. These thoughts often circle around people's personal futures. One assumed function of mind wandering is that it aids problem solving and planning for the future. We will discuss different forms of mind wandering and their effects on problem solving and behavior change. While solely fantasizing about a desired future leads to poor problem solving and little behavior change, mind wandering in the form of mental contrasting leads to skilled problem solving and substantial behavior change. In mental contrasting, people first envision the desired future and then imagine the obstacles that need to be surmounted to reach said future. Mental contrasting instigates behavior change by modulating the strength of associations between future and reality and between reality and instrumental action. Intervention research shows that mental contrasting can be taught as a cost- and time-effective self-regulation strategy of behavior change. The findings have implications for research on mind wandering, problem solving, and on creating effective interventions of behavior change.
mind wandering; thinking about the future; fantasies; mental contrasting; behavior change intervention; self-regulation; motivation
We examined whether the temporal rate at which thought probes are presented affects the likelihood that people will report periods of mind wandering. To evaluate this possibility, we had participants complete a sustained-attention task (the Metronome Response Task; MRT) during which we intermittently presented thought probes. Critically, we varied the average time between probes (i.e., probe rate) across participants, allowing us to examine the relation between probe rate and mind-wandering rate. We observed a positive relation between these variables, indicating that people are more likely to report mind wandering as the time between probes increases. We discuss the methodological implications of this finding in the context of the mind-wandering literature, and suggest that researchers include a range of probe rates in future work to provide more insight into this methodological issue.
mind wandering; thought probes; thought sampling; metronome response task; MRT
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.
mind wandering; consciousness; goal priming; attention; current concerns
Although neurocognitive impairments in theory of mind and in executive functions have both been hypothesized to play a causal role in autism, there has been little research investigating the explanatory power of these impairments with regard to autistic symptomatology. The present study examined the degree to which individual differences in theory of mind and executive functions could explain variations in the severity of autism symptoms. Participants included 31 verbal, school-aged children with autism who were administered a battery of tests assessing the understanding of mental states (knowledge and false belief ) and executive control skills (working memory, combined working memory and inhibitory control, and planning) and who were behaviorally evaluated for autism severity in the three core symptom domains. Whereas theory of mind and executive control abilities explained the significant variance beyond that accounted for by language level in communication symptoms, neither explained the significant variance in reciprocal social interaction or repetitive behaviors symptoms. These findings are discussed in terms of a proposed distinction between higher level, cognitive–linguistic aspects of theory of mind and related executive control skills, and more fundamental social–perceptual processes involved in the apprehension of mental state information conveyed through eyes, faces, and voices, which may be more closely linked to autistic deficits in social reciprocity.