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1.  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.
doi:10.1016/j.actpsy.2012.11.006
PMCID: PMC3545047  PMID: 23261422
aging; mind wandering; executive control; consciousness; working memory
2.  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.
doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00570
PMCID: PMC3760067  PMID: 24027542
mind wandering; consciousness; goal priming; attention; current concerns
3.  Does Mind Wandering Reflect Executive Function or Executive Failure? Comment on Smallwood and Schooler (2006) and Watkins (2008) 
Psychological bulletin  2010;136(2):188-207.
In this Comment, we contrast different conceptions of mind wandering that were presented in two recent theoretical reviews: Smallwood and Schooler (2006) and Watkins (2008). We also introduce a new perspective on the role of executive control in mind wandering by integrating empirical evidence presented in Smallwood and Schooler (2006) with two theoretical frameworks: Watkins’s (2008) elaborated control theory and Klinger’s (1971; 2009) current concerns theory. In contrast to the Smallwood-Schooler claim that mind-wandering recruits executive resources, we argue that mind wandering represents a failure of executive control and that it is dually determined by the presence of automatically generated thoughts in response to environmental and mental cues and the ability of the executive-control system to deal with this interference. We present empirical support for this view from experimental, neuroimaging, and individual-differences research.
doi:10.1037/a0018298
PMCID: PMC2850105  PMID: 20192557
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.
doi:10.1037/a0025250
PMCID: PMC3387280  PMID: 21875246
working memory; executive control; mind wandering; individual differences; reading comprehension; attention control
5.  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.
doi:10.1037/a0025896
PMCID: PMC3395723  PMID: 22004270
working memory; executive control; mind wandering; individual differences; reaction time
6.  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.
doi:10.3758/PBR.16.5.857
PMCID: PMC2760023  PMID: 19815789
7.  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.
doi:10.1037/a0014104
PMCID: PMC2750806  PMID: 19210090

Results 1-7 (7)