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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
Preschoolers' theory-of-mind development follows a similar age trajectory across many cultures. To determine whether these similarities are related to similar underlying ontogenetic processes, we examined whether the relation between theory of mind and executive function commonly found among U.S. preschoolers is also present among Chinese preschoolers. Preschoolers from Beijing, China (N = 109), were administered theory-of-mind and executive-functioning tasks, and their performance was compared with that of a previously studied sample of U.S. preschoolers (N = 107). The Chinese preschoolers out-performed their U.S. counterparts on all measures of executive functioning, but were not similarly advanced in theory-of-mind reasoning. Nonetheless, individual differences in executive functioning predicted theory of mind for children in both cultures. Thus, the relation between executive functioning and theory of mind is robust across two disparate cultures. These findings shed light on why executive functioning is important for theory-of-mind development.
Objective To assess the association between mind wandering (thinking unrelated to the task at hand) and the risk of being responsible for a motor vehicle crash.
Design Responsibility case-control study.
Setting Adult emergency department of a university hospital in France, April 2010 to August 2011.
Participants 955 drivers injured in a motor vehicle crash.
Main outcome measures Responsibility for the crash, mind wandering, external distraction, negative affect, alcohol use, psychotropic drug use, and sleep deprivation. Potential confounders were sociodemographic and crash characteristics.
Results Intense mind wandering (highly disrupting/distracting content) was associated with responsibility for a traffic crash (17% (78 of 453 crashes in which the driver was thought to be responsible) v 9% (43 of 502 crashes in which the driver was not thought to be responsible); adjusted odds ratio 2.12, 95% confidence interval 1.37 to 3.28).
Conclusions Mind wandering while driving, by decoupling attention from visual and auditory perceptions, can jeopardise the ability of the driver to incorporate information from the environment, thereby threatening safety on the roads.
This study sought to examine the effect of meditation experience on brain networks underlying cognitive actions employed during contemplative practice. In a previous study, we proposed a basic model of naturalistic cognitive fluctuations that occur during the practice of focused attention meditation. This model specifies four intervals in a cognitive cycle: mind wandering (MW), awareness of MW, shifting of attention, and sustained attention. Using subjective input from experienced practitioners during meditation, we identified activity in salience network regions during awareness of MW and executive network regions during shifting and sustained attention. Brain regions associated with the default mode were active during MW. In the present study, we reasoned that repeated activation of attentional brain networks over years of practice may induce lasting functional connectivity changes within relevant circuits. To investigate this possibility, we created seeds representing the networks that were active during the four phases of the earlier study, and examined functional connectivity during the resting state in the same participants. Connectivity maps were then contrasted between participants with high vs. low meditation experience. Participants with more meditation experience exhibited increased connectivity within attentional networks, as well as between attentional regions and medial frontal regions. These neural relationships may be involved in the development of cognitive skills, such as maintaining attention and disengaging from distraction, that are often reported with meditation practice. Furthermore, because altered connectivity of brain regions in experienced meditators was observed in a non-meditative (resting) state, this may represent a transference of cognitive abilities “off the cushion” into daily life.
functional connectivity; attention; meditation; default mode; networks; fMRI
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.
mind wandering; experience sampling; motor control; visuomotor tracking task; fERN; performance monitoring; time-estimation
Executive functioning deficits due to brain disease affecting frontal lobe functions cause significant real-life disability, yet solid evidence in support of executive functioning interventions is lacking. Goal Management Training (GMT), an executive functioning intervention that draws upon theories concerning goal processing and sustained attention, has received empirical support in studies of patients with traumatic brain injury, normal aging, and case studies. GMT promotes a mindful approach to complex real-life tasks that pose problems for patients with executive functioning deficits, with a main goal of periodically stopping ongoing behavior to monitor and adjust goals. In this controlled trial, an expanded version of GMT was compared to an alternative intervention, Brain Health Workshop that was matched to GMT on non-specific characteristics that can affect intervention outcome. Participants included 19 individuals in the chronic phase of recovery from brain disease (predominantly stroke) affecting frontal lobe function. Outcome data indicated specific effects of GMT on the Sustained Attention to Response Task as well as the Tower Test, a visuospatial problem-solving measure that reflected far transfer of training effects. There were no significant effects on self-report questionnaires, likely owing to the complexity of these measures in this heterogeneous patient sample. Overall, these data support the efficacy of GMT in the rehabilitation of executive functioning deficits.
rehabilitation; executive functioning; frontal lobe; stroke; traumatic brain injury mindfulness
Alcohol consumption alters consciousness in ways that make drinking both alluring and hazardous. Recent advances in the study of consciousness using a mind-wandering paradigm permit a rigorous examination of the effects of alcohol on experiential consciousness and metaconsciousness. Fifty-four male social drinkers consumed alcohol (0.82 g/kg) or a placebo beverage and then performed a mind-wandering reading task. This task indexed both self-caught and probe-caught zone-outs to distinguish between mind wandering inside and outside of awareness. Compared with participants who drank the placebo, those who drank alcohol were significantly more likely to report that they were zoning out when probed. After this increase in mind wandering was accounted for, alcohol also lowered the probability of catching oneself zoning out. The results suggest that alcohol increases mind wandering while simultaneously reducing the likelihood of noticing one's mind wandering. Findings are discussed with regard to theories of alcohol and theories of consciousness.
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.
Recently, a double-anchoring theory (DAT) of lightness perception was proposed (P. Bressan, 2006), which offers explanations for all the data explained by the original anchoring theory (A. Gilchrist et al., 1999), as well as a number of additional lightness phenomena. Consequently, DAT can account for an unprecedented range of empirical results, potentially explaining everything from the basic simultaneous contrast display to subtle variations of the Gelb effect. In this comment, the authors raised 4 concerns that demonstrate serious theoretical and empirical difficulties for DAT.
lightness; grouping; dungeon illusion; White’s effect; anchoring
Bays and Husain (Reports, 8 August 2008, p. 851) reported that human working memory, the limited information currently in mind, reflects resources distributed across all items in an array. In an alternative interpretation, memory is limited to several well-represented items. We argue that this item-limit model fits the extant data better than the distributed-resources model and is more interpretable theoretically.
Mind-wandering (MW) is among the most robust and permanent expressions of human conscious awareness, classically regarded by philosophers, clinicians, and scientists as a core element of an intact sense of self. Nevertheless, the scientific exploration of MW poses unique challenges; MW is by nature a spontaneous, off task, internal mental process which is often unaware and usually difficult to control, document or replicate. Consequently, there is a lack of accepted modus operandi for exploring MW in a laboratory setup, leading to a relatively small amount of studies regarding the neural basis of MW. In order to facilitate scientific examination of MW the current review categorizes recent literature into five suggested strategies. Each strategy represents a different methodology of MW research within functional neuroimaging paradigms. Particular attention is paid to resting-state brain activity and to the “default-mode” network. Since the default network is known to exert high activity levels during off-task conditions, it stands out as a compelling candidate for a neuro-biological account of mind-wandering, in itself a rest-based phenomenon. By summarizing the results within and across strategies we suggest further insights into the neural basis and adaptive value of MW, a truly intriguing and unique human experience.
mind-wandering; default-mode network; self; resting state; neuroimaging; fMRI; task independent thought; stimulus independent thought
Neuroimaging data suggest a link between the spontaneous production of thoughts during wakeful rest and slow fluctuations of activity in the default mode network (DMN), a set of brain regions with high basal metabolism and a major neural hub in the ventral posteromedial cortex (vPMC). Meta-awareness and regulation of mind-wandering are core cognitive components of most contemplative practices and to study their impact on DMN activity we collected functional MRI (fMRI) data from a cohort of experienced Zen meditators and meditation-naïve controls engaging in a basic attention-to-breathing protocol. We observed a significant group difference in the skewness of the fMRI blood-oxygen level dependent (BOLD) signal from the vPMC, suggesting that the relative incidence of states of elevated vPMC activity was lower in meditators; furthermore, the same parameter was significantly correlated with performance on a rapid visual information processing (RVIP) test for sustained attention conducted outside the scanner. Finally, a functional connectivity (fc) analysis with the vPMC seed revealed a significant association of RVIP performance and the degree of temporal correlation between vPMC and the right temporo-parietal junction (TPJ), a region strongly implicated in stimulus-triggered reorienting of attention. Taken together, these findings suggest that the vPMC BOLD signal skewness and the temporal relationship of vPMC and TPJ activities reflect the dynamic tension between mind-wandering, meta-awareness, and directed attention, and may represent a useful endophenotype for studying individual differences in attentional abilities and the impairment of the latter in specific clinical conditions.
D. Hume (1739/1987) argued that causality is not observable. P. W. Cheng (1997) claimed to present “a theoretical solution to the problem of causal induction first posed by Hume more than two and a half centuries ago” (p. 398) in the form of the power PC theory (L. R. Novick & P. W. Cheng, 2004). This theory claims that people's goal in causal induction is to estimate causal powers from observable covariation and outlines how this can be done in specific conditions. The authors first demonstrate that if the necessary assumptions were ever met, causal powers would be self-evident to a reasoner—they are either 0 or 1—making the theory unnecessary. The authors further argue that the assumptions the power PC theory requires to compute causal power are unobtainable in the real world and, furthermore, people are aware that requisite assumptions are violated. Therefore, the authors argue that people do not attempt to compute causal power.
causal induction; causal power; power PC theory; reasoning
Mindfulness-based meditation practices involve various attentional skills, including the ability to sustain and focus ones attention. During a simple mindful breathing practice, sustained attention is required to maintain focus on the breath while cognitive control is required to detect mind wandering. We thus hypothesized that regular, brief mindfulness training would result in improvements in the self-regulation of attention and foster changes in neuronal activity related to attentional control. A longitudinal randomized control group EEG study was conducted. At baseline (T1), 40 meditation naïve participants were randomized into a wait list group and a meditation group, who received three hours mindfulness meditation training. Twenty-eight participants remained in the final analysis. At T1, after eight weeks (T2) and after 16 weeks (T3), all participants performed a computerized Stroop task (a measure of attentional control) while the 64-channel EEG was recorded. Between T1 and T3 the meditators were requested to meditate daily for 10 min. Event-related potential (ERP) analysis highlighted two between group effects that developed over the course of the 16-week mindfulness training. An early effect at left and right posterior sites 160–240 ms post-stimulus indicated that meditation practice improved the focusing of attentional resources. A second effect at central posterior sites 310–380 ms post-stimulus reflects that meditation practice reduced the recruitment of resources during object recognition processes, especially for incongruent stimuli. Scalp topographies and source analyses (Variable Resolution Electromagnetic Tomography, VARETA) indicate relevant changes in neural sources, pertaining to left medial and lateral occipitotemporal areas for the early effect and right lateral occipitotemporal and inferior temporal areas for the later effect. The results suggest that mindfulness meditation may alter the efficiency of allocating cognitive resources, leading to improved self-regulation of attention.
meditation; mindfulness; cognitive control; EEG; Stroop; interference; attention