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Psychological Bulletin Copyright 2006 by the American Psychological Association

2006, Vol. 132, No. 6, 946 –958 0033-2909/06/$12.00 DOI: 10.1037/0033-2909.132.6.946

The Restless Mind

Jonathan Smallwood Jonathan W. Schooler
University of Aberdeen University of British Columbia

This article reviews the hypothesis that mind wandering can be integrated into executive models of
attention. Evidence suggests that mind wandering shares many similarities with traditional notions of
executive control. When mind wandering occurs, the executive components of attention appear to shift
away from the primary task, leading to failures in task performance and superficial representations of the
external environment. One challenge for incorporating mind wandering into standard executive models
is that it often occurs in the absence of explicit intention—a hallmark of controlled processing. However,
mind wandering, like other goal-related processes, can be engaged without explicit awareness; thus, mind
wandering can be seen as a goal-driven process, albeit one that is not directed toward the primary task.

Keywords: mind wandering, task-unrelated thought, stimulus-independent thought, meta-awareness,
attentional control

Introspective evidence is often suspect; yet, certain mental phe- mation, such as memories (Smallwood, Baracaia, et al., 2003;
nomena are so self-evident their existence can hardly be ques- Smallwood, Davies, et al., 2004; Smallwood, Obonsawin, & Heim,
tioned. Our propensity for mind wandering is such a phenomenon. 2003; Smallwood, O’Connor, et al., 2004; see also Christoff,
We all experience our minds drifting away from a task toward Ream, & Gabrieli, 2004). By referring to this phenomenon as mind
unrelated inner thoughts, fantasies, feelings, and other musings. wandering, a term familiar to the lay person, we hope to elevate
Although mind wandering is ubiquitous in mental life, it has the status of this research into mainstream psychological thinking.
largely escaped the interest of mainstream psychology. Indeed, we
were unable to find a single mention of the topic in a recent perusal
of cognitive psychology texts. Aims
Perhaps part of the reason why mind wandering has escaped In this review, we frame the literature on mind wandering in a
mainstream attention is that research addressing the issue has been context that we hope will enable its integration into mainstream
framed in the context of a variety of disparate constructs including models of executive attention. We propose that mind wandering is
task-unrelated thought (Smallwood, Baracaia, Lowe, & Obon- a situation in which executive control shifts away from a primary
sawin, 2003; Smallwood, Davies, et al., 2004; Smallwood, Obon- task to the processing of personal goals. Mind wandering shares
sawin, Baracaia, et al., 2003; Smallwood, Obonsawin, & Heim, certain similarities with standard views of controlled processing,
2003; Smallwood, Obonsawin, & Reid, 2003; Smallwood, however, there is an important difference. Controlled processing is
O’Connor, Sudberry, & Ballantyre, 2004), task-unrelated images generally associated with the intentional pursuit of a goal. Mind
and thoughts (Giambra, 1995), stimulus-independent thought wandering, however, often occurs without intention (Giambra,
(Antrobus, 1968; Teasdale, Lloyd, Proctor, & Badgeley, 1993; 1995) or even awareness that one’s mind has drifted (Schooler,
Teasdale, Segal, & Williams, 1995), mind pops (Kvavilashvili & 2002; Schooler, Reichle, & Halpern, 2005).
Mandler, 2004), and zone outs (Schooler, 2002; Schooler, Reichle, Two considerations are necessary to resolve the apparent para-
& Halpern, 2005). These various lines of research have all ad- dox that mind wandering involves executive control yet seems to
dressed the basic phenomenal characteristics of mind wandering, a lack deliberate intent. First, it is likely that executive control is not
shift of attention away from a primary task toward internal infor- involved in the initiation of mind-wandering episodes. Rather, the
activation of goal-relevant information may occur automatically
through a process that does not require conscious intention (Bargh,
Jonathan Smallwood, Psychology Department, University of Aberdeen, 1997; Gollwitzer, 1999). Mind wandering involves executive con-
Aberdeen, Scotland; Jonathan W. Schooler, Psychology Department, Uni- trol when a stimulus unrelated to the primary task automatically
versity of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. initiates mind wandering. The absence of explicit and deliberate
The writing of this article was supported by a grant from the U.S. Office intent associated with mind wandering may be enabled by the
of Education to Erik Reichle and Jonathan W. Schooler. We are grateful to simple fact that we often lack explicit awareness of the current
Todd Handy, Alan Kingstone, Derek Heim, Eric Reichle, and Merrill contents of our own experiences (herein termed meta-awareness;
McSpadden for their helpful comments on earlier versions of this article.
Schooler, 2002; see also Jack & Shallice, 2001; Lambie & Marcel,
We also thank Jason Chin, Joanne Elliott, Angela Aquino, and Helga Reid
for their help in the preparation of this article.
2002). Thus, mind wandering may entail situations in which indi-
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to viduals temporarily fail to notice that their immediate goal of task
Jonathan Smallwood, School of Psychology, William Guild Building, completion has been temporarily displaced by another concern.
University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen AB24 2UB, Scotland. E-mail: With the assumption that mind wandering can be accommo-
j.smallwood@abdn.ac.uk dated into executive models of attention, it is possible to derive


Gollwitzer. When probed. that individuals have a hierarchy of goals. Generally. Obonsawin. thus. Reichle. criteria (Smallwood. representations of subjective experience in an ecologically valid setting (for reviews the external environment should be superficial. it should be associated with deficits in perfor. Schooler and Schreiber (2004) observe that one im- mind wandering because off-task thinking also requires resources. 1978. 1995.. Smallwood. 2005). We review evidence that 1995). 2005. requires individ- In the following sections. 1997. participants are asked to individuals often fail to notice that their attention has left the monitor their awareness for off-task episodes (Cunningham. participants are asked to carry pagers during their day. it is possible that mind Schooler. 1968. & Halpern. Klinger.. & Heim. 1997. informed about the category of thinking being investigated. Before beginning the primary task. 2003). Baracaia. 2004). 1995. Both sampling meth- O’Connor. see Csikszentmihalyi & Larson. Smallwood. et al. absence of intent from mind wandering challenges the suggestion The measures of mind wandering used in empirical investiga- that both mind wandering and controlled processing share tions can be grouped into two broad categories: probe-caught mind working-memory resources. Schooler. providing in the absence of explicit intention. 2003. Schooler. when mind wandering occurs in ical concomitants. 1995. but are not techniques that are used to assess mind wandering (Antrobus. we review the existing literature on uals to be aware of the content of their own experiences. partic- In this section... unlike probe-caught mind wandering. 1995. 2004. & tailed representations of the external environment should be avail. Assuming task and asked to report their experiences (Giambra. These probe-caught mind- wandering leads to a shift of attention away from the primary task wandering episodes can be recorded via either computer (Antro- because an alternative goal becomes activated in the absence of bus. the individual is shed light on the processes involved in mind wandering. Smallwood. 1977). wandering. 2004. tasks that rely heavily on controlled tations and barriers that such reports impose on the study of inner processing will leave few working-memory resources available for experience. Reichle. 1993). markers for mind wandering provide important sources of validity mance because fewer resources are available to complete the for these phenomena. First. periods of mind wandering should be associated with less accurate awareness of external information than periods of Methods of Thought Sampling task focus because mind wandering involves a shift of attention away from the outside world. Delespaul. Attention is similar procedure. Baracaia. In self-caught mind wandering. dard notions of controlled processing.. Davies. Obonsawin. In this para- able to awareness when attention is firmly directed at the current digm. 1990. Smallwood. wandering episodes occurred during predefined intervals (Giam- bra.. the partic- into executive models of attention is that our mind often wanders ipant is asked to describe his or her internal experiences. & Halpern. 1999). assesses directed inwards during mind wandering. however. 2000. 2003. & Reid. et al. et al. Teasdale et al. 2003. This challenge can be met if one wandering and self-caught mind wandering. assessing the inner experience of an individual is a state when information processing is decoupled from the as they complete a task in a controlled experimental setting.. & Halpern. Schooler. 1995. Giambra. et al. 2005) or attention. Reichle. Reichle. Reichle. the central challenge for incorporating mind wandering dom intervals via the electronic device. Giambra. as the experimenter-classified probe method. Baracaia. Smallwood.. mind wandering within the framework of a standard executive Probe-caught measures have been used to examine mind wan- model of attention. Smallwood. we discuss the methods used to measure these at intervals throughout a task to determine whether any mind- phenomena in the laboratory. 2000). verbal report (Smallwood. O’Connor. A primary task (Smallwood. is that mind Davies. Klinger. 2005). tiated by a personally relevant goal. We refer to this et al. portant way to determine when self-reports accurately reflect in- Thus. individual’s experience is sampled at either random or quasiran- Finally. individuals are interrupted during the performance of a cally (Bargh. 1993). Obonsawin. 2003). also considering how future experiments may dering with two different methods. Dritschell. thus. The shift in attention from the The most common method for investigating mind wandering is primary task toward one’s memories suggests that mind wandering thought sampling. 2005). Self-caught mind (Giambra. the experience-sampling procedure. & Halpern. In probe-caught mind recognizes that goal-related processes can be initiated automati. These 1968. & Halp. therefore. Teasdale. Shiffman. An situation. MIND WANDERING AND EXECUTIVE PROCESSES 947 specific predictions about how these experiences should relate to face value (Nisbett & Wilson. In the first. 1999. The second method requires par- Wandering in the Laboratory ticipants to report what was passing through their mind at a point Verbal Reporting preceding the thought probe (Teasdale. et al. wandering reflects controlled processing that is automatically ini. et al. mind wandering should be less likely to occur when the ternal states and when they may be misleading is to examine the primary task is demanding and more likely to occur when the task relation between subjective reports and behavioral and physiolog- is simple or automatic. & Freeman. & Reid. We refer to this as the Methodological Issues for the Measurement of Mind self-classification probe method. de. Self-reports cannot always be taken at ods produce good estimates of mind-wandering frequency because . wandering. 2003. Giambra. we consider the limi- controlled processing. so the apparent context in which it occurred. Dijkman-Caes.. primary task. verbal reports are recorded and can be coded using published ern. typically respond- ing with a simple yes/no judgement. In contrast. deliberate intent is detailed information on the nature of the experience and also the considered a hallmark of controlled processing. Dritschell. Before trained to recognize an example of mind wandering and is probed doing so. we review the literature on the thought-sampling ipants are informed that thought probes will occur. A crucial difference between mind wandering and stan. Reliable behavioral or physiological temporal demanding tasks. de Vries. Schooler. Second. 2004. et al. 1995. et al. Smallwood. primary task and has become directed at a salient personal goal Scerbo.. 1987. Moreover. Hulburt.

prehension. 1993) merely ported frequencies of self-caught and probe-caught mind wander- requires that individuals report what is passing through their ing should yield important insights into the intermittent nature of minds. Baracaia. 2003. therefore. that the self. et al.. Giambra. Dritschell. It should be possible to shed light on the processes underpinning wandering episodes (Antrobus. In particular. The mind-wandering frequency. Considering mind-wandering frequency was confounded with awareness/mem.948 SMALLWOOD AND SCHOOLER they do not rely on participants’ awareness of their own Although the self-classification method of assessing mind wan- experiences. 1977). Davies. there has been little empirical support for this premise.. Cunningham et al. probed about whether they were off-task at that moment. An important research strategy. these two measures are reliably correlated (r ⫽ .50. it is considerably easier for indi- (Seibert & Ellis. requirement that participants continuously attend to their own monitoring approach indexes changes that result from engaging in awareness has a potential methodological downside. 2004. Smallwood. group was probed and also monitored their thoughts.50. Schooler. is to combine the group merely read the text. et al. provide a reliable baseline for the overall fre- sawin. Smallwood. and they were periodically al. It is possible. the method does not require that Experiments 1 and 2) and changes in electroencephalograms individuals report detailed personal information regarding the con- (EEGs. such as thought listing demand characteristics. Differences in re- Teasdale. process by which individuals catch their minds wandering and Wenzlaff & Wegner. These ratings can be subsequently corroborated by providing par. It is task (Experiment 3). Similarly. 2003. it has The self-caught mind-wandering measure has been used to a number of important practical advantages over the experimenter- investigate changes in mind wandering with age (Giambra. Participants were asked to report Smallwood. ing. et al.. The to monitor their awareness for such episodes. Smallwood. Reichle. possible. It is unclear whether the self. thereby shed light on how they become aware of their conscious Although attending to mind wandering may alter our experi- experiences. irrespective of whether participants were asked to psychological studies. ing during text comprehension using a combination of the probe- Generally. experimenters to classify participants’ experiences. 2000). and. Teasdale et al. et al. O’Connor. 1994.60. dering may inflate estimates of mind-wandering frequency. The manner in which mind wandering is measured influences results results suggest that self-monitoring did not appreciably alter the and then discuss the theoretical advantages of combining self. & Reid. O’Connor. First.. 1995) in which the representation of information in awareness (meta-awareness) participants receive a description of mind wandering and are asked by combining the probe-caught and self-caught measures. Self- mind wandering or changes that result from catching oneself mind monitoring may increase mind wandering in a manner similar to wandering. 1968. In addition. In contrast. Smallwood.. attention has drifted from the task (Schooler. 2003. ence. and 2) or to retrospectively report their thoughts at the end of the tigation depends on self-report (Nisbett & Wilson. 2003. Obon. 1991) and questionnaire measures of off-task viduals to classify their own mental experiences than it is for thinking (Smallwood. Reichle. & Heim. band associated with mind wandering wherein “activity levels A more general methodological issue concerns the difference recorded immediately after the reported mind wandering might be between self-caught and probe-caught methods. In contrast. instruction not to think about a white bear leads to experiences of caught method will ultimately prove useful in illuminating the the target at a level above baseline (for a review see Wegner. Smallwood. quency with which mind wandering occurs. may encourage self-caught measure requires that participants notice when their individuals to assign an artificially high priority to mind wander. . knowledge of a psychological report their thoughts when probed during a task (Experiments 1 phenomenon is especially important when the focus of an inves. phenomenological experience of mind wandering during text com- caught and probe-caught mind wandering in a research program. and Halpern (2005) explored mind wander- ticipants with a retrospective questionnaire at the end of the task. thus. Baracaia. caught and self-caught methods. 2005). r ⫽ . Although self- higher because observers realize that they had been daydreaming caught mind wandering offers important insights into participants’ and must now redirect their attention back to the task at hand” meta-awareness of their off-task episodes (Schooler. nor did and without awareness. 2004). 2000). 2004). and Halpern (2005) examined mind wandering during reading. 2002). They com- Both self-caught and probe-caught measures of mind wandering pared three groups: One group monitored their thoughts. the potential advantages of the self-classification method. Obonsawin.. (2003) demon- A strong case can be made that rigorous control of participants’ strated a consistent relation between mind wandering and retrieval beliefs regarding the purpose of an experiment is important in from memory. as a result. 2002). studies have used tent of their experiences. conscious experience. 1994). We first consider the possibility that the either manipulation influence reading-comprehension scores. 64). that the self-classification method of mind. et al. & ipants’ beliefs regarding the purpose of the research may bias Halpern.. its (Cunningham et al. Baracaia. They compared the effects of self-monitoring on Dissociations Between Methods of Thought Sampling (a) the frequency of probe-caught zone outs and (b) attention to the task. and a final dering. often without overt mention of the category in question. Schooler. 1993. p. classification approach. Second. In these studies. it is ory of mind wandering because the sampling measure depended on important in future research to gain understanding of how partic- an individual’s ability to monitor attention (Schooler. Reichle. a second provide complementary evidence about the nature of mind wan. Schooler. the experimenter-classified approach to mind probe-caught mind-wandering episodes do not require awareness wandering (Smallwood. et each episode of mind wandering. No group differences were observed in methods to highlight differences between mind wandering with the frequency of probe-caught mind-wandering episodes. r ⫽ . as measured by subsequent text comprehension. et al. therefore. 2000. this method is not a good gauge of overall what occurs in thought-suppression studies (Wegner.. Consider the interpretation of changes in the EEG experimental results. 1995. however.. presumably reducing the potential for retrospective measures of thought sampling.

Smallwood. the relevant microbehaviors involved in driving a car (i. If the primary task requires the individ. involved in the primary task. This component is often referred to as con. Put simply. Practice diminishes the need for attention in skilled activities (Newell & Rosenbloom. 2004). Experiment 2). 1993). Dritschell. Moreover. Second. et al. Grodsky & Giam- hypothesis.. In principle. During a simple signal-detection mind wandering should decrease. p. owed the same information (Teasdale et al. This section addresses our hypothesis that mind wandering de- ing processes are compromised (either as a consequence of indi. we can make two specific wood. 1995). As tasks become skilled. therefore. et al. 1995. primary task. impairments resulting from mind wander- rate indicates the proportion of time that participants lacked meta. to the overall frequency of mind in the experience. and Halpern caught participants’ minds wandering on ness. A plausible explana- reduce self-awareness (Hull. Small- .. & Schooler. 2006).. Teasdale et al. In the future. an increase in mind wandering in well-practiced suppress mind wandering. As more resources are allocated to the measures. 1993). then mind wandering should increase as (c) “an expenditure of effort in the control of action. situations has been observed using both self-caught (Cunningham ual to maintain and coordinate task-relevant information in aware. ratio of probe-caught and self-caught mind wandering. 1993. and Schooler (2006) reported results consistent with this been replicated independently (Giambra. If monitor. Consistent with their hypothesis. dering. Experimental evidence confirms (closed-loop) monitoring of the control output” (see Wegner & that mind wandering increases when a task is well practiced Bargh. mind wander- wandering (which was increased in the alcohol condition). evidence to date suggests that the self-caught and in mind wandering occurred irrespective of whether the manipu- probe-caught techniques used to assess mind wandering provide lation was within the same participant (Teasdale et al. et al. ing that suppression does not depend solely on the involvement of whereas the self-caught method provides an estimate of the aware. fewer decisions are made consciously. then few resources will be available to coordinate a mind- approximately 13% of the trials in which they were probed. MIND WANDERING AND EXECUTIVE PROCESSES 949 Reichle.. 463). Schneider & Shiffrin. reported fewer mind. wandering episode. 1981.. particularly when supple.” and (d) “a performance becomes skilled. 1995. crepancies between these two methods. connected segments” (Teasdale et al.. wandering is that the two processes compete for the same limited Alcohol had a distinctly different effect as revealed by the two working-memory resources. correct manner).e. tasks that rely on controlled processing should Furthermore. of mind wandering when stimulus presentation rate is high has Reichle. Antrobus (1968) demonstrated that mind wandering de- wandering should either remain invariant or increase because creased as function of the stimulus presentation rate. processing emphasize four features: (a) “conscious intention of If practice on a task reduces the working-memory resources what control will accomplish. et al. suggest- provides an estimate of how often mind-wandering episodes occur. 1993) because task-relevant information becomes rep- Controlled Processing resented at an increasingly abstract level (Anderson. At the same time. The reduction In sum. wandering episodes when probed than did their sober compatriots. these measures appear to reveal some. Participants who received alcohol reported more mind. example. the phonological loop (Teasdale. 1995. A second research strategy is to systematically manipulate the The experience of mind wandering and controlled processing. the probe-caught ley. They examined the effects of alcohol— known to bra. it may be possible to gain authors concluded that working memory provided a “temporary insights into the potentially distinct processes that mediate the workspace for the production of thought streams consisting of occurrence and awareness of mind wandering by examining dis. The reduction individuals fail to catch their mind wandering. mind wandering is experienced because control processes that are Smallwood.. 1998. skilled drivers simply drive instead of concentrating on tween mind wandering and executive control is that mind wander. p. Well-practiced tasks become functionally transparent (Vera Mind Wandering and Executive Processes & Simon. Davies. fewer are available to support mind wandering. Giambra.. A second influence on controlled processing is practice with a mented with indirect measures of awareness.” (b) “a sense of feeling of control. (1993) hypothesized that tasks in which partic- The inebriated participants. The probe-caught should suppress mind wandering if working memory is implicated measure was sensitive. 1993. Davies. 1977). 2004). for The first component of our hypothesis about the relation be. et al. predictions. given task. Small- control of information in awareness. If mind wandering is associated with the (Antrobus. Definitions of controlled utive control in performing a task. 432). however. whereas probe-caught mind task. 1993). 1990. check- ing requires the coordination of information using resources under ing the mirror or ensuring that the steering wheel is held in the executive control. 2000. Sayette. whereas ing occurred at a lower frequency when participants received the self-caught measure also required meta-awareness of mind information for subsequent retrieval than when they verbally shad- wandering (which was compromised in the alcohol condition). The probe-caught method a simple visual-motor task relative to a control condition. Sim. The ness of mind wandering. 2003. then self-caught involves controlled processing. Kirchner. Because participants were asked normally involved in the task are directed elsewhere (see Badde- to report mind wandering as soon as possible.. Smallwood. 2000) and probe-caught methods (Giambra.. Experiment 1) or between different participants (Teasdale et al. an individual’s ability to coordinate ilar proportions of episodes without meta-awareness have been task-relevant information in awareness will be impaired when reported with use of the thought-suppression paradigm (Fishman. ipants must maintain task-relevant information in awareness wandering episodes than did sober participants. 1983). 1993. First. valid and informative appraisals of the occurrence of mind wan. 1981)— on the frequency of both tion for why increasing the stimulus presentation rate reduces mind self-caught and probe-caught mind wandering during reading. mind wandering was reduced by what different aspects of the experience..” allocated to the task. Cunningham et al. ing should increase as a function of the controlled processing awareness of mind wandering. 1968. practice decreases the need for exec- trolled processing (Baddeley. creases when an individual is engaged in a primary task that vidual differences or due to some manipulation). Baracaia.

In principle. (1993). & ing and practice is that manipulations of practice confound skill Heim.. see Antrobus. tionally transparent and can proceed without supervision by aware- et al. suggesting that these ing. No change in the direction of thinking particularly in circumstances of low target probability (Manly et is observed in fluency suggesting that the shift results from auto. indicating that mind wandering was not of mind wandering reported with retrospective questionnaires are associated with poor performance. “when more control resources are allocated to blocks with short and long durations. the likelihood of errors when off task can be predicted by argues that random number generation requires controlled process. & Obon. Teasdale. 2004). Smallwood. SART support the interpretation suggested by Robertson et al. Errors on the SART predict mating task performance. 558). (1997). & Yiend.. et al. mands were so slight that the effects of mind wandering on task First. mistakes reflect a drift of attention from the primary task (Rob- sources.950 SMALLWOOD AND SCHOOLER wood. few resources will be available to perform it (Baddeley. high levels accuracy (96%–100%). associated with a tendency to make an error during periods of task Mind wandering is associated with poor performance. and Reid (2003) found that block nontarget and to inhibit their response to the target. task. Baddeley (1996) Finally. 1995). 2004). Obonsawin. et al. Mind wandering occurs more the production of stimulus-independent thoughts. et al. 1999). participants performed at high levels of toward the task (Smallwood. 2003) and has been observed in a response pattern (e. disengagement. in the studies by faster response times than are blocks in which attention is directed Teasdale et al.. 1997) and are predicted by (Manly et al. cerning the influence of off-task episodes on task processing. (Robertson et al. Obonsawin. Experiment 3).. 2003).. p. 2000. an event in previous blocks of the same task) toward lihood of errors. Without a reasonable number of a memory-load task.. Davies. These errors are most frequent for targets with brief when a primary task requires substantial controlled processing.. 1999) Interference between mind wandering and controlled process. Robertson. & Reid. Dritschell. In this sense. 664). 2003). 1999. yet it is sensitive to all types of tasks. The SART is a simple go/no-go task. however.. Robertson. and the participant is asked to respond to the ing. individuals must remain “sufficiently attentive to their re- length increased mind wandering in simple signal detection. for example. response times in blocks in which individuals report mind wandering. 1997) is sufficiently simple Increased mind wandering with time on task does not generalize that attention frequently leaves the primary task. 1997). One can also observe the effects of practice at a with the primary task for the control and coordination of working- microlevel by examining the frequency of mind wandering in memory resources. One such task is random number generation. the frequency of the nontarget. They found that both manipulations increased mind-wandering episodes. they can substitute Finally.. and verbal encoding (Smallwood. Robertson et al. Sudberry. 2003). random-number generation during mind wandering.. 1997). Obonsawin. ing because individuals must refrain from using an automatic but not in blocks in which individuals are focused on the task. task (i. stimulus durations (Smallwood. moderate increases in block length will lead to the development of stronger prepotent responses than (30 – 60 s) are associated with a shift from thinking about ones’ a high target frequency. al. Practice over an extended & Hawkins. processing de. random order. In simple signal. Although mind wandering can lead to participants manipulation) and time on task (a within-participants deficits on difficult tasks. mind wandering and task performance are One problem in interpreting the relation between mind wander. 2004. 1993). et al. mind wandering independent of fatigue. mind wandering). Smallwood. 1995.. et al. Fluency tasks. questionnaire measures of absentmindedness. Dritschell. fewer resources frequently in signal-detection and verbal encoding tasks when are available to control the generation of random numbers” (Teas- blocks are of a long duration (1 min) than when they are of a short dale. are consistent with the hypothesis that mind wandering competes sawin. a low target frequency detection and encoding tasks. Experiment 2). Smallwood. To perform length had no effect on mind wandering in fluency. Dritschell. at the appearance of a target. These . ness (see previous section). it is difficult to obtain reliable data con- the frequency of mind wandering (Teasdale. presented (often the digit 3) amongst a background of frequent extensive practice does not reduce the role of controlled process- nontargets (0 –9). visual motor (Teasdale. unrelated in many circumstances (see Smallwood. et al. sponses.. 2004.. p. not only does mind wandering increase with time on the directly antagonistic response” (Manly. Smallwood. Manly. Dritschell. Comparable findings are An important feature of the SART is that it is possible to observed in studies investigating block length and mind wandering moderate the strength of the prepotent response by manipulating (Smallwood. et al. In Investigations of the experience of mind wandering during the many of the studies described above.g. (1995) demonstrated decrements in Dritschell.. Their results suggest that practice affects The sustained attention to response task (SART. A more direct test of the role of frequently studied in situations in which task performance is func- practice in mind wandering was conducted by Teasdale.g. Davies. these tasks reduce the frequency with which manipulation) in the context of two tasks: a pursuit-rotor task and participants report mind wandering. As outlined above. 1999. If mind wandering monopolizes working-memory re... Davies. Andrade. the nature of thinking also changes. blocks in which mind wandering occurs are associated with performance could not be analyzed. Responses are faster to nontargets that own task performance toward thoughts that are unrelated to the precede an error than to nontargets that precede a correct response. whereas block well. This is likely due to the fact that mind wandering is with the possibility of fatigue. (1995) who examined the role of practice (a between. duration (30 s.e. A single infrequent target is individual consistently generate novel information. Galloway. et al. For example. errors on the SART can be consid- thoughts related to less immediate concerns (termed experimenter- ered a behavioral example of a failure in controlled processing. in press). such that. & Reid. Obonsawin. In this case. Their results O’Connor. even numbers) to generate numbers in a variety of contexts: simple signal detection (Cunningham et al. O’Connor. however. remote concerns. Baddeley. Second. 1995. Performing the SART in a functionally period yields a shift from thoughts that are related to the primary transparent manner should increase rather than decrease the like- task (e. Obonsawin. then performance on a primary task should suffer because ertson et al. require that the to the tendency for participants to automate their behavior. & Reid.

Mind wandering is reported frequently when the with measurable differences in an individual’s access to represen- primary task does not require the executive control of task-relevant tations of environmental stimuli. 1990). and the attention studied in psychology. Moreover. experience in situations in which task focus is the norm rather than cessing is involved. Other tasks that involve shifts of that is often used to examine the time course of automatic pro. attention away from the external environment include reasoning cessing (e. Goldstein. (1993. 662) be viewed as a state of decoupled attention. search could provide a more complete test of this relation. Mind wandering can stimulus-press stimulus-press style” (Manly et al. Stuyven and demonstrated that the likelihood of mind wandering during reading van der Gouten (1995) demonstrated that a letter-generation task was positively associated with its likelihood in a simple signal- suppressed mind wandering to a greater extent than either a fast or detection task. (2004) compared mind wandering with the overt maintenance general one. Segal. a stimulus environment that is rich. will be important in resolving this of reading and simple signal-detection tasks. when controlled pro.. Such activities are ideal for testing our hypotheses processing and mind wandering compete for working-memory about mind wandering. such as ERP or functional magnetic Despite the consistency between mind wandering in the context resonance imaging (fMRI). this issue is clearly worthy of further research. research on mental frequency of mind wandering should increase. 1999. The dynamic relation between automaticity and mind wan. the interference between Mind wandering is not the only form of internally focused mind wandering and task performance should decrease. the period when the mind is wandering should be associated performance. we review studies of mind wandering in the Evidence has suggested that (a) mind wandering increases with context of tasks such as reading and encoding. For example. The evidence presented in this focuses on one’s thoughts and feelings. These situations may share important information- hibited by. O’Connor. Smallwood. simple resource-driven factors. This experiment would pro. It is possible to address this issue through comparison of and mind wandering suggested that information-processing simi- interference between different task modalities and mind wander. p. 1999) and autobiographical memory recall (Williams & vide robust evidence that mind wandering is simultaneously in. In the context of semantically When the mind wanders. whereas The Decoupling of Attention From the External mind wandering during reading was unrelated to passage diffi- Environment culty. Instead. and (b) mind wan. This increase re. 1971). When it the exception (see Smallwood. also important because it involves the investigation of subjective manner: During the onset of a novel task. in this case.g. sensory sources. Some activities (such as reading) information in awareness. 1991). demonstrate that individuals have superficial representations of the dering interferes with the successful completion of nonautomated environment when their minds wander. MIND WANDERING AND EXECUTIVE PROCESSES 951 findings validate the interpretation of SART performance (Robertson scribed by John Antrobus and Jerome Singer as “decoupling” (see et al. attention may become divided between meaningful tasks. attention is intentionally dering could be readily tested in the alphabet-addition task. If this hypothesis is cor- section suggests trade-offs between mind wandering and task rect. the executive control of task. There are several areas. Work by Grodsky and Giambra (1990) mind-wandering episodes. mind wandering should be infrequent. signal detec- resources. neuropsychological measures. factors such as absorption or interest. Obonsawin. the first. The comparison between explicit imagery control. should be viewed as a modality-specific process or as a more et al. for a occurs. as is the case for standard notions of executive of images in attention. Scott. task performance becomes automated. & Williams. Similarly. more detailed. & Heim. In this section. Teasdale. For example. it should lead to deficits in task performance. The positive correlation between mind wandering slow random-time interval task with no verbal component. however. Metzler. a phenomenon initially de. & Heim. (Grodsky & Giambra.. a thus. mind wandering was frequent during reading when passages were rated as uninteresting. appear to play an important role in .e. the factors that de- issue by identifying the brain areas involved in the competition termined mind wandering varied across experimental situations between mind wandering and the primary task. In contrast. typified by the mental-rotation paradigm (Sheppard & flects the functional transparency that accompanies skill acquisi. also requires the shift of attention away from tion. and the second. Work by Teasdale et al. respectively. Logan & Klapp. processing characteristics with mind wandering and may ulti- relevant information in working memory. attention shifts inward and Summary and future directions. As discussion of this issue). In signal detection. that auditory and visual tasks interfere with auditory and visual Text comprehension. it is possible to observe involve the creation of online representations of the external task subtle impairments in the efficiency of task processing when environment. 1997) and confirm that participants are adopting a “mindless also Smallwood. attention could provide a useful baseline for future neuropsycho- Antrobus. (Laird. and interferes with. However.g. These studies time on tasks that can be readily automated. mind wandering was more frequent during easy rather than hard blocks. The study of mind wan- tasks. Singer. it is important to determine whether mind wandering of mind-wandering episodes. because instead of during mind wandering. mately provide important control conditions for the investigation Second. dynamic images in awareness (i. 1988). Tasks that involve the explicit internalization of spatial tasks and tasks with a phonological component. It is plausible that the relation between task familiarity and dering in the context of semantically rich tasks such as reading is mind wandering could be tested in the following. rather than internal and external information. however. Obonsawin. The during reading and signal detection indicates a reasonable level of nature of the resources involved in mind wandering bears directly consistency in mind wandering across two quite different contexts: on the extent to which mind wandering involves executive control. and Fortgang (1970) demonstrated logical investigations of mind wandering. unlike the simple tasks (e. 1995) suggested that mind wandering is suppressed by both visual. in which future re. 2003). 2003. a task directed toward the primary task. monitoring online sensory information. images that change over time).. imagery. tion) reviewed in the previous section. It is likely that relatively impoverished one. larities exist between mind wandering and the maintenance of ing.. but not static ones.

Baracaia. Experi- mediately after probes. & Reichle. dividing attention at study task.. 2003). mind wandering leads to super. 1996) impair recollection. p. 2003. retrieval can dissociation procedure (Jacoby. of study (Smallwood. 1998. the debilitating effects interfered with participants’ ability to comprehend the text. 1993). fragment completion (Smallwood. lar. from the current environment. periods before an error ously encountered stimulus affects behaviour without conscious index intervals when attention is directed away from the primary knowledge” (Szymanski & Macleod. relation between encoding of the environment and behavioral Encoding. leading to more superficial cated that manipulations increasing mind wandering. during the first phase. Third. et al. 2003. 1996. then subsequent retrieval may occur attention that is normally directed toward the primary task shifts via familiarity rather than recollection. research on mind wandering during encoding often for subsequent recall tends to increase subsequent task perfor- mance and decrease mind wandering. Reid. literature that. Jennings & Jacoby. Similarly. likely to be retrieved on the basis of recollection. 2003. McSpadden. 2003). In particu- the literature measure the awareness of target stimuli indirectly. when the mind wanders. are associated that superficial representations of the environment tend to occur as with superficial representations of the environmental context. Those items plicit and implicit retrieval (Szymanski & Macleod. frequent mind wandering should lead to poor less of whether recollection/familiarity was measured at the point performance on measures of text comprehension. participants wandering leads to a measurable difference in the quality of received a word-fragment completion test for words presented episodic memories formed during encoding. & Heim. leaving stimulus familiarity unaffected. 1998. 1993) or ex.. et al.. 2003. lapses was addressed using a variation on the SART. Words that were presented occur through two distinct processes (Jacoby. tions that promote high levels of encoding also encourage the From a methodological perspective. during mind wan- Smallwood. Second. confirming that mind wandering (Smallwood. Evidence from studies of text comprehension and encod- memory (Seibert & Ellis. mind wan- ficial representations of the current external environment. 2002). In the dering has been associated with elevations in familiarity.952 SMALLWOOD AND SCHOOLER determining when the mind wanders. Baracaia. Retrieval was measured using the process- According to dual process accounts of memory. in tasks like the SART. 1999. 2006). 2006) and when text is O’Connor. refer to these phenomenon. that were presented after participants made an error were more Broadly. . On completion of the initial task. 1991. 2003). et al. 2005). and Halpern (2005) examined this issue by requiring retrieval using the process-dissociation procedure (Smallwood. retrieved on the basis of familiarity or recollection. et al. Obonsawin. et al.. also reduce retrieval from on task. relative to either alphabetical or randomly organized stimuli (Smallwood. et al. called the tailed episodic memories depends on the executive control of semantic SART (Smallwood.. participants to read passages from War and Peace during which Baracaia. 1993) and directing failure in task performance (Manly et al. Baracaia. Obonsawin. The rebound in recollection following an error demonstrates that attention returns to the primary task following an explicit attention (Jacoby. Research has suggested that the formation of de. attention to superficial stimulus features (Szymanski & Macleod. 1991). The attention drifts from task-relevant material. we use the terms recollection and familiarity to Smallwood. Research has also investigated whether failures in controlled Smallwood. Smallwood. In this attention during encoding. 2002) and delayed retrieval (Seibert & asking participants to suppress thoughts relating to a previous Ellis. the presentation of stimuli in the form of semantic categories For example. Baracaia. 1996. Baracaia.. 2003. et al. Summary and future directions. 1997). 1998): recollection before an individual made an error were equally likely to be and familiarity (Jacoby. The literature reviewed in this If mind wandering is associated with a shift of attention away section is consistent with the claim that. For example. p. Schooler. 1998). of familiarity rather than recollection (Smallwood. the majority of the findings in maintenance of attention on task-relevant information. Baracaia. whereas familiarity/implicit retrieval arises “when a previ.. Experiment 2) or at Reichle. elevated frequencies of ing has illustrated that individuals have less detailed access to mind wandering are associated with high frequencies of false representations of the external environment when their attention is alarms in immediate retrieval (Smallwood. & Davies. The influence of interest or More recent evidence has demonstrated that mind wandering is absorption on mind wandering has been termed an affordance associated with a shift toward retrieval of information on the basis (Smallwood. 1996). Moreover. were associated with poorer text comprehension than were periods et al. Comprehension was assessed im. 2003. a shift in retrieval as both mind wandering (self-caught and probe caught) and text a result of mind wandering has been demonstrated on word- comprehension were assessed. Initial studies have indi- away from the external environment. Riby. Similar of mind wandering on retrieval have been observed in immediate results have been observed when mind wandering is induced by recall (Smallwood et al. recollection/explicit recall can be understood as the “con. Baracaia. we examine evidence that mind stimulus (XXXXX). 2003. attention is decoupled from the external environment. Baracaia. These results confirm processing. According to our hypotheses about the relations between mind 2003). et al. situa- dering. The pattern of scious retrieval of an event” (Szymanski & Macleod. across a variety of different situations. & Heim. et al. Experiment 3) but not with simple word recognition in which attention was on task. presented one item at a time in a self-paced reading task (Schooler. Heim. The effects of mind wandering during study are robust wandering and executive control.. off task. For example.. such as in- representations of the external environment than when attention is ducing positive or negative mood. participants were asked to respond to a frequent nontarget reduces the formation of detailed episodic memories (Jennings & stimulus (a five-letter word) and inhibit their response to a target Jacoby. retrieval before and after an error confirms observations in the 165). Baracaia. defined in behavioral terms as errors.... 2004).. Smallwood. providing support for the claim that. Jennings & Jacoby. Experiment 3). regard- context of reading. romantic relationship (Fishman et al.1 Both dividing task. 1 For the sake of clarity.. Periods of probe-caught mind wandering ments 1 and 2) and word-stem completion (Smallwood. Robertson et al. 165).. et al. In this section.

1995) and reading tasks episodes. or goal-related stimuli (Gollwitzer & Bargh. & Halpern. Nonetheless. and meta-awareness are distinct (Schooler. & Bursell. trol of behavior (Baddeley. Schooler. 1996) in one channel of a dichotic listening task activates relevant adjectives in aware- Deliberate and Nondeliberate Processes and Mind ness. mind wandering research with the current concerns framework Reichle. 1996). Thus. Therefore. Small. 1953). 1978. lead the cognitive system to encoding. Klinger. et al. 1999. attempts to control awareness create con. This framework wood. 2001. Smallwood. 1978. It would be worthwhile to explore the possibility that ERPs Bargh. 2002). 1978). 1978) and goal-relevant information (Gollwitzer & 2006). such as ERPs. the heightened accessibility of individuals describe their mind-wandering experiences as either goal-relevant information results in the processing of these stimuli lacking intentionality (Giambra. it is hard to ensure that deficits result from task-unrelated. behavior without conscious intent (Bargh. Throughout this review. ness of the experience (meta-awareness. 1999).. These goal-driven sensitivities can be control of attention and mind wandering. 2002. 1999. Schooler. 298). goal has temporarily drawn our attention away mind wandering and not from some other intervening variable. mind wandering and intention is speculative. position to the goal of task completion because of the direct bra. This distinction attempts to control it” (p. we consider evidence demonstrating that. on occasion. 1997). 1999).g. (Klinger. to provide temporal information about automatically process behaviorally relevant cues (Klinger. increases the number of thoughts related to that concern (Klinger. 1999) or experimental evidence shed light on whether mind wandering current concerns (Klinger. Satisfactory goal completion re. 1997). episodes occur when executive control becomes temporarily Automatic goal activation. wandering episodes if goal-driven processes attract attention with- 1997. Klinger. 2005). Nikles. we have empha- of traditional executive systems. fluctuations in an individual’s ability to encode information. some of goal-driven acts (Bargh. auto-motive theory (Bargh. largely because few ronmental opportunities that facilitate a given behavior (Gollwit. individuals may lack executive control is engaged without deliberate intent can be meta-awareness of mind wandering in the same manner that they achieved by adding two assumptions to standard executive models: occasionally fail to recognize why they engage in certain other (a) the assumption that individuals possess multiple goals. & Halpern. heightening the accessibility of goal-relevant stimuli. & Heim. and (b) the assumption that consciousness conflict. Given the fact that goal- A resolution to the fact that mind wandering occurs when directed processing can occur automatically. MIND WANDERING AND EXECUTIVE PROCESSES 953 measures retrieval at the end of the encoding phase (e. mative to use this paradigm in the context of immediate measures p. Awareness will be absent in mind- which can be triggered automatically by salient stimuli (Bargh. Smallwood. 1986). Indeed. Current concerns are “hypothetical pro- amine comprehension failures in reading. These goal sensitivities. mind wandering occurs. dering is a paradox. see also current concerns theory in out the individual (at least for a period of time) perceiving a Klinger. in turn. 1994). 1982) encoding phase of a memory task. 2005). According to ironic processes becomes particularly important when we attempt to explain how theory (Wegner. during dichotic listening. Briefly presenting either self-related (Bargh. stimuli related to an individual’s current concerns Wandering presented in one channel of a dichotic listening task leads an individual’s attention to switch to that channel and subsequently Executive systems are generally involved in the deliberate con. Gollwitzer. therefore. cesses active during the time that one has a goal” (Klinger. Empirical evidence demonstrates that ditions in which the intentional control of attention is undermined. 1982. but retrieval of the memory. Lambie & Marcel. Klinger. (Schooler. in turn. It from the primary task. Norman & Shallice. Second. mind wandering may experience (experiential consciousness) and one’s explicit aware- occur specifically as a consequence of intentions to avoid it. see also Wegner (1997) suggested that the “mind wanders as a result of our Jack & Shallice. and it would be infor. 2005). we consider evidence that mind-wandering assumption in turn. 1995) or lacking awareness that preconsciously. 1999. 1999). 1999. and Halpern (2005) have used this methodology to ex. Cooper. for future research to address this issue The automatic activation of goals has previously been applied to using a paradigm that measures retrieval immediately. We discuss each In this final section. we review empirical studies in this section demonstrat. Reichle. & Annett. Finnigan. and they facilitate behavior by occurs without intention. 2002). 1999). because to commit to a goal of encoding. these stimuli (Riby. studies have directly addressed the relation between the directed zer. usurped by a more personally relevant goal. 2003). in a manner similar to the cocktail party effect could be used to detect fluctuations in awareness during the (Cherry. yet some of these episodes occur sized the value of distinguishing between the occurrence of an in the absence of explicit intention. The relation between quires that an individual’s cognitive system be sensitive to envi. from the external environment—mind wandering— occurs in op- ing that people often fail to notice their minds wandering (Giam. Obonsawin.or goal- who report a high frequency of mind wandering show differences relevant information. is important. 1996. First. Brecht. two lines of referred to as implementation intentions (Gollwitzer. 1998). individuals often fail to recognize that their attention is off task in leading in turn to an increase in the frequency of mind-wandering both simple signal-detection (Giambra. Empirical evidence has cent work has provided preliminary evidence that those individuals provided support for the sensitivity of attention to self. this. Re. According to First. activation of a personally relevant goal. 43) and elicit effects on cognition.. 1995. leads to the direct activation of a they were off task (Schooler. Given the intervening time suggests that mind wandering can occur against our best intentions between the initial presentation of the stimulus and the subsequent because the automatic activation of a personally relevant. is to become sensitive to cues associated with the relevant behav- An alternative method would be to use indirect measures of ior. . Similarly. Schooler. Reichle. mind wandering clearly shares many features Meta-awareness. mind wan. 1997). it seems possible that the shift of attention away However. attention is in the ERP correlates of episodic memories when asked to retrieve rapidly and efficiently drawn to both self-relevant stimuli (Bargh.

then off.2 of mind wandering (Smallwood. In additional support for the claim that mind wandering occurs in the the text-comprehension study described earlier. Reichle. vide informative evidence that off-task episodes occur when a O’Connor. similarities can be seen in the overlap simple signal-detection task. even when specifically instructed to be vigilant for such graduate students reported a greater number of concerns than did lapses. therefore. individuals were pursuit of self-relevant goals. and create effective conscious awareness. 2002. Smallwood. Smallwood. et dysphoria reflects a state of elevated current concerns (Ruehlman. et al. Davies. 1995. lar. In more general terms. Moreover. than those who were not dysphoric. notably Dennet (1996). Obonsawin. 1989).. and (c) mental health (Ruehlman. Consistent frequencies (20%) have been observed with both a self-paced with this emphasis on the self in depression. 2003. Similar zynski & Greenberg. 2004).. & Reid. or no particular time to think about something other than the vigilance task” (Giambra.055) relative to a neutral control broadcast (Antrobus. dysphoric were less positive and less related to active goal pursuits viduals frequently lack meta-awareness that they are mind wan. 2006). individ- wandering. awareness. period (23%.. The role of mind wandering in problem O’Connor. 2006). 1985). see also Higgins. 1987). Grodsky & 1999). 1999. 2004). 1987). individuals association has been observed between the content of mind wan- were often caught mind wandering before they noticed it dering experienced on a day-to-day basis and the content of themselves. Mind wandering could clearly facilitate problem solving by plays an important role in attempts at problem solving. 1999).045 mind-wandering episodes are directed toward the explicit or voli. entered the Vietnam War) increases the likelihood of mind wan- tively. solve problems that re. in both reading and simple signal-detection situations. 1985). 2003. In the context of simple signal detection. If mind wandering is associated with solving personal Mind wandering and personally relevant problem solving. & Heim. an experimental 1995. 12). are accompanied by high frequencies (Cleeremans & Jiménez. et al.954 SMALLWOOD AND SCHOOLER we discuss the possibility that mind wandering in everyday life 85). et al. Giambra. respec. 1995). 2005). in press. Second. dysphoric under- dering. to . Nonetheless. Empirical evidence. dering: spontaneous and deliberate (Giambra. Dysphoria has been recently con- unaware of the direction of their thinking on approximately 13% of ceptualized as a state of repetitive self-relevant processing (Pyszc- thought probes in which mind wandering was reported. particularly in three areas: (a) love and sex. 1995). 1966). Davies. Finally. the content of a participant’s thinking as sampled on Giambra. In particu- (Smallwood. Spontaneous mind wandering reflects “task.45) and the frequency of errors (from . O’Connor. and word-fragment completion (Smallwood. substantial proportion of mind-wandering episodes occur without (b) employment and money. past or future life (12%). solving by the conceptual manipulation of semantic information et al. sustained attention (Smallwood.32 to 0. al. personally relevant goal is activated in awareness. . Obonsawin.. Smallwood. ambra and colleagues examined the role of intentions in mind & Maxeiner. a day-to-day basis through the use of a pager is often associated unrelated thought intrusions that spontaneously come into your with the contents of the participant’s concerns as sampled by a head without any effort on your part..g. and mind wandering. individuals reported that between the content of mind wandering and coping strategies they were not experiencing deliberate mind wanderings during (Greenwald & Harder. In addition. 1987... 2 Similar perspectives have been advanced in evolutionary accounts of quire computation over long periods of time. sustained fantasies evoked as a source of comfort to an individual The notion that mind wandering often lacks meta-awareness is in situations of distress (Greenwald & Harder. 1978). These concerns are associated with the individual’s wandering reflects “intrusions that occur when you deliberately try present life (67%). A consistent and reliable approximately half of the probes—in other words. tional pursuit of an individual’s goals or current concerns during a & Greenberg. 1995. 2001).” whereas deliberate mind questionnaire. task episodes should be closely tied to problem solving. research suggests that word-by-word text-comprehension task (Schooler. Evidence helping individuals solve problems in awareness before they en- suggests that personal concerns form the basis of mind wandering counter them in the real world. 1980) or laboratory settings (Klinger. p. Klinger & Cox. Smallwood Evidence linking mind wandering to problem solving would pro- et al. mind wandering has been associated with facilitating problem O’Connor. Smallwood. this process and that states involving elevations in these concerns. Research by Gi. several authors have suggested that mind wandering naire measures of dysphoria across a wide range of tasks: encoding is associated with important functional consequences. such as has been referred to as problem solving in the neural workspace dysphoria (Ruehlman. The current concerns of undergraduate students who were Thus. This suggests that a high proportion of dering (from 0. 1997). a broadcast indicating that China had than was nonvolitional mind wandering (71% vs. They distinguished between two forms of mind wan. uals are likely to be processing their current concerns (Klinger. et al. p. 2004. First. Smallwood. & Halpern.. & Heim. Singer. 50%. Intentions. If problems.. (Binder et al. important functional role in resolving problems in everyday life. and problem solving. Baracaia. intent. who emphasized the devel- plans governing behaviour in the future” (Binder et al.. Since Mind wandering has been consistently associated with question- Singer (1966). opment of infovores: organisms whose ideas can die instead of themselves. When mind wandering occurs in either naturalistic (Klinger. recent evidence has sug- solving is exemplified in the following quotation: “By storing and manipulating internal information we organise what could not be organised during stimulus presentation. This evidence provides a critical link between mind wandering and Research supports the notion that mind wandering plays an the need to resolve ongoing personal problems. 1985). 2006).. supported by research in which the meta-cognitive status of mind The relation between dysphoria and mind wandering provides wandering was examined (Schooler. indi. volitional induction of a personal salient concern with extensive implications mind wandering was reported on a greater proportion of probes for an individual (e. 2004. 2005) and a task using alternative text (Fishman et al. Dehaene & Naccache. then dysphoric individuals constitute an important pop- mind wandering occurs when executive control leaves the primary ulation in which to test the association between off-task thinking task in favor of an alternative personally relevant goal. Barta. supports the position that a nondysphoric students.

then the emotional of task completion. nature of this information may be responsible for whether the Summary and future directions. A study of mind wandering with and without aware- process that occasionally occurs in the absence of intention. Smallwood. Gollwitzer. Baracaia. Flykt. we suggested that goal-relevant processing depressed and control participants could address this issue. wandering episodes.. 1995).. activity during the resting state. 1997. The evidence on the relation between dysphoria and mind Smallwood. Obonsawin. Baracaia.... In MBCT.g. 2000). Ohman. mind wandering (e. Christoff et al. including personally salient internal information can dominate awareness at lateral anterior and medial temporal regions. whether mind-wandering episodes lack meta-awareness.. Reichle. When mind wandering occurs against our intentions. et al. exploit these physiological or behavioral markers to provide more tant indirect evidence for the association between off-task experi. some of which are Conclusions and Final Thoughts unrelated to the current goal of task completion (Klinger.. (2004) dem. memory re. 2000) and ERPs (Riby et al.. Evidence trieval (Buckner. (b) changes in heart rate (Smallwood. which information becomes re-represented in awareness 2004). 2004.. posttherapy. in press). leading to the withdrawal of attention from the primary combining assumptions from previous theoretical accounts of task. Smallwood et al. 1999. In this section. Research has and. Sharma. Second. et al. 2004). wandering suggests that (a) populations who have elevated per. 2004). it leads to physiological arousal and information from memory may form the content of mind- inefficient information processing (Smallwood et al. 1999.. text-comprehension tasks (Giambra. 2006). Teasdale. was observed in temporal lobe structures. we have suggested that themselves registering this fact in both simple signal-detection and executive control becomes disengaged from a primary task during . 2005). & Petersen. et al. in press). interspersed throughout a simple Smallwood. Advances in technology such as real time fMRI finding has been that periods of rest resemble periods of problem. et al. 2004). (c) skin conductance (Small- across a wide range of tasks and (b) therapeutic interventions that wood et al. McKenna & physiological mechanism through which higher order goals de. it is possible We have provided a framework for describing the empirical that personally relevant goal-driven processes are automatically evidence on mind wandering gathered over the last 30 years by activated. MBCT reports only. Smallwood. al. In A recent fMRI study has provided a physiological mechanism to particular.’s study provide a plausible 2001) and may do so automatically (MacLeod. mind-wandering episodes and periods in which attention is with- Teasdale et al.. dering and executive control is that research has examined verbal niques that are focused on reducing mind wandering. showed high levels of activation in lateral pre. & Esteves. et al. If information-processing during mind wandering rived from our past experience may overshadow the primary goal is aimed at personally salient goal resolution... Dritschell. 1996). et frontal and visual cortex. Miezin. and when off-task thinking Halpern. and problem has shown that stimuli related to an individual’s current concerns solving (Christoff & Gabrieli. EEGs (Cunningham et al. 1995) with contemporary features of mind wandering that are consistent with this claim. in press. A large body of vation was interpreted as an indication that long-term memory experimental evidence suggests that emotive material tends to processes form the basis of spontaneous thinking (Christoff et al. O’Connor. one consistent (Schooler.. recent advances in the treatment of depression—such as frequencies of personal problems show evidence for frequent mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT. Raichle. (d) electro-cortical activity including both focus on reducing mind wandering are effective in reducing re. Lambie & Marcel. Teasdale et The evidence reviewed in this section demonstrates two clear al. attract an individual’s attention (e. 2004) and has shown that however. First. and lapse in recovering depressive individuals. evidence has demonstrated that brain logical marker for mind wandering a viable possibility. identified five markers that may index the experience of mind biographical memories (Williams et al. onstrated that periods of rest... Smallwood. Schooler. Smallwood. 1999. 2002). 1999. participants are trained in meditative tech. Teasdale. This pattern of acti. a psychophysiological contrast between self-monitored explain the manner in which periods of off-task thinking may be and probe-caught mind wandering may illuminate the process by activated by an individual’s current concerns (Christoff et al.. et al. Davies. 2004. the expense of external task-relevant stimuli.. O’Connor. The most robust activation during rest. Davies... 2003. To ness by experimentally inducing positive and negative moods in overcome this paradox. Klinger.. Taken together. 2002). can be instigated automatically (Bargh. 2000)—provide an important source of evidence drawn from the current situation.. 1995. views of executive control and meta-awareness (Jack & Shallice. Self reports are a crude measure of awareness and are shows promise in reducing the likelihood of depressive relapse potentially susceptible to demand characteristics. 2006. is closely related to activity the emotional nature of current concerns as determinants of during conceptual processing (Binder et al. Antrobus. Recently. for the association between mind wandering and on-going personal One limitation of research into the relation between mind wan- problems. 2003. and source-localization ERP make the development of a physio- solving activity. evidence has suggested that personal occurs in this population. et al. 2000). 1993.. In the context of neuroimaging studies. MIND WANDERING AND EXECUTIVE PROCESSES 955 gested that mind wandering is more frequent in a dysphoric pop. 2004). in helping participants form more detailed auto. 1999). those individuals who have high Finally. et al. Davies. can trigger a mind-wandering episode (Klinger. presumably a period when high A second possible direction for future research is to investigate frequencies of mind wandering occur.g. We may be able to relation between mind wandering and dysphoria provides impor. Heim. visuomotor task. we examined subjective experience of mind wandering is associated with meta- the paradoxical fact that mind wandering reflects an executive awareness. & ulation than in a nondysphoric one. evidence shows that the mind wanders without individuals 2001. The results of Christoff et al. et al. than can be provided by the analysis of self-reports alone. First. 1999) and that individuals possess multiple goals. Moreover. sonal problems are more likely to engage in mind wandering Smallwood. reliable evidence about the role of intention in mind wandering ences and goal-resolution processes. 2004.. O’Connor. 1991. wandering: (a) response time (Smallwood. 1999). 1978. the (e) fMRI activity (Christoff et al.

.g. In the future. we speculate available for self-monitoring. Anderson. In mind wandering. when mind wandering occurs. it is clear from of consciousness: Essay in honor of Jerome L. as the evidence in this article suggests. Both the consequences information-processing states such as meditation. Giambra. 1995. E.). Singer (Eds. J. foster creative problem solving. As psychologists. D. Working memory and conscious awareness. However. Klinger (1999) pant’s time is spent mind wandering (15% fluency and encoding. (1982). Sec. D. dis- cerning the solution to a heretofore unsolved problem). that processes associated with fantasy. (1970). F. mind wan. Gathercole. Similarly. however. 49(A).956 SMALLWOOD AND SCHOOLER mind wandering and becomes directed toward the processing of account for the sense of focus brought about by simple internal information. S.. Studies in the stream of consciousness: Experimental suppression of spontaneous cognitive individuals to catch their minds wandering requires a self- processes. If executive control and mind wan- that mind wandering involves both the redirection of executive dering are linked. 11–28). NJ: Erlbaum. Cambridge. Perceptual and Motor Skills. M. preventing both the to wander when the primary task does not require executive mind’s tendency to wander and the monitoring process from control. Conway. A. In particular. absence of self-monitoring is nondetrimental because too few ond. dering. the individual may spend a information processing. & P.. such that individuals temporarily fail to notice empirical investigation and directly maps onto a simple model of that their task-related processing has been hijacked by a more executive control. Antrobus.. in tasks such as reading and encoding. wandering may be one of the most ubiquitous and pervasive of all Two questions emerge regarding the relation between executive cognitive phenomena. may sometimes occur chological phenomenon. Obonsawin. we have suggested that mind wandering is a stimulation that occurs in controlled experimental settings (Klinger situation when controlled processing becomes hijacked in the & Cox. A second outstanding question that emerges from consideration Antrobus. mind wandering dering may share important similarities with incubation processes inevitably accounts for a substantial proportion of an individual’s related to creativity. information within awareness and (b) a decoupling process that Mindwandering and cognitive structure. we must confront this phenomenon di- reka” or “ah-ha” moments (Schooler. Goldstein. & Greenberg. S. suggested that one advantage to mind wandering is that it could Smallwood. 1–28). (1993). & Halpern. expect the relation between task load and mind wandering to mary task. 32. Quarterly Journal mind wandering. sufficient resources are also available of Experimental Psychology. This could Bargh. 1987). J. 5–28. A. the experience of sudden “eu. S. we might control and a failure of goal-oriented processing toward the pri. Across a diverse variety of tasks. Smallwood. eluded solution. our review of the literature enabled by the tendency for experience to become decoupled from has demonstrated that the phenomenon readily lends itself to meta-awareness. British Journal of Psychology. (1983). Accordingly. 23. are low. Toward a neurocognitive processing model of of the research on mind wandering has been influenced by a simple imaginal thought. Exploring the central executive. and 50% simple signal detection. The first question concerns the ad. however. O’Connor. 20% reading. J. suggests that then this process is linked to the pursuit of ideas or problems that every laboratory study is at least partially a study of mind wan- have. England: Erlbaum. particularly in early life.. E. In this article. 1995). At a moderate task-relevant stimuli is impaired during mind wandering. however. reports have indicated that between 15% and 50% of a partici- vantages that we derive from mind wandering. et al. It seems that. A. J. 59. MA: Harvard University Press. In P. such as memories. because mind wandering addresses more remote goals (e. recognizing the importance of mind wandering as a psy- which apparently occur out of the blue. This level of task demands. our ability to represent resources are available to support mind wandering.. These ratings from laboratory tasks may be higher than we have argued that mind wandering may be a mode of problem those recorded in day-to-day living. rectly. S. (1996). Furthermore. Finally. If this is correct. 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J. verbal control and mind wandering. the competition for resources will provides evidence that mind wandering is a state of decoupled be greatest. Such goal switching may be backwaters of mainstream psychology. J. ing cognitive tasks such as encoding and reading. 2004). idle cognitive processes are available for redirection to an Theories of memory (pp. the specific relation between task load and mind wandering. & Fortgang. S. Much Antrobus. monitoring process that detects periods when idle cognitive re- Baddeley. Singer (pp. (1966). The architecture of cognition. significant period of time off task because too few resources are tion away from the immediate environment. & Fiore. than external information. Information theory and stimulus-independent- of the relation between executive control and mind wandering is thought. of cognitive processing: (a) a control process that coordinates Antrobus.. thus facilitating the experience of Baddeley. time. At play in the fields limited-capacity account of cognition. this review that mind wandering requires at least two components Hillsdale. idle processes are reduced. Salovey & J. it seems that the automatic activa. research on mind wandering could be informed through use References of frameworks that have been successfully developed for the study of creativity. In these circumstances. Schooler. (1968). tion of a pertinent personal goal temporarily overshadows the more Although mind wandering has largely been relegated to the immediate goal of task completion. J. reflect this competitive process. A. L. 1968. Schooler (2002) has suggested that for Antrobus. Singer (1966) argued Reichle. Considered in this light. L. to monitor task awareness in a satisfactory manner. R.

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