Mind at Large


Welcome to the Mind at Large Lab,
a psychological research lab located in the department of Psychology and Neuroscience at Duke University.


Select Publications

Seli, P., Kane, M. J., Smallwood, J., Schacter, D. L., Maillet, D., Schooler, J. W., & Smilek, D. (2018). Mind-wandering as a natural kind: A family-resemblances view. Trends in cognitive sciences, 22(6), 479-490.

Recent research on mind-wandering has indicated that this experience is a complex phenomenon varying on numerous dimensions, which suggests that mind-wandering is best considered as a multidimensional construct held together by patterns of overlapping and nonoverlapping features. To date, however, researchers have tended to treat mind-wandering as a unitary construct (e.g., encompassing only task-unrelated thought). We argue that this practice leads to a lack of appreciation of the specificity of particular findings and artificially constrains conceptual and theoretical understanding of the phenomenon. Therefore, we propose that researchers adopt a family-resemblances approach to mind-wandering, which involves treating mind-wandering as a heterogeneous construct, and clearly measuring and/or describing the specific aspects of the variety of mind-wandering under investigation.

Seli, P., Carriere, J. S., Wammes, J. D., Risko, E. F., Schacter, D. L., & Smilek, D. (2018). On the clock: evidence for the rapid and strategic modulation of mind wandering. Psychological science, 29(8), 1247-1256.

We examined the hypothesis that people can modulate their mind wandering on the basis of their expectations of upcoming challenges in a task. To this end, we developed a novel paradigm in which participants were presented with an analog clock, via a computer monitor, and asked to push a button every time the clock’s hand was pointed at 12:00. Importantly, the time at which the clock’s hand was pointed at 12:00 was completely predictable and occurred at 20-s intervals. During some of the 20-s intervals, we presented thought probes to index participants’ rates of mind wandering. Results indicated that participants decreased their levels of mind wandering as they approached the predictable upcoming target. Critically, these results suggest that people can and do modulate their mind wandering in anticipation of changes in task demands.

Seli, P., Smilek, D., Ralph, B. C., & Schacter, D. L. (2018). The awakening of the attention: Evidence for a link between the monitoring of mind wandering and prospective goals. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 147(3), 431.

Across 2 independent samples, we examined the relation between individual differences in rates of self-caught mind wandering and individual differences in temporal monitoring of an unrelated response goal. Rates of self-caught mind wandering were assessed during a commonly used sustained-attention task, and temporal goal monitoring was indexed during a well-established prospective-memory task. The results from both samples showed a positive relation between rates of self-caught mind wandering during the sustained-attention task and rates of checking a clock to monitor the amount of time remaining before a response was required in the prospective-memory task. This relation held even when controlling for overall propensity to mind-wander (indexed by intermittent thought probes) and levels of motivation (indexed by subjective reports). These results suggest the possibility that there is a common monitoring system that monitors the contents of consciousness and the progress of ongoing goals and tasks.

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In the News

"When Mind Wandering is a Strategy, Not a Disadvantage"

7/5/2018 | The Observer
A study recently published in Psychological Science found that people can adjust their rate of mind wandering during an attention-demanding task without decreasing their performance on that task. (Link >>)

"When wandering minds are just fine"

6/19/2018 | The Harvard Gazette
While most psychologists call mind wandering a detrimental “failure of executive control," a new study led by Paul Seli suggests that it's not always harmful. (Link >>)

"Five Ways Science Can Improve Your Focus"

9/25/2017 | BBC Capital
Anyone who has tried to concentrate on a difficult or boring piece of work will know how tough it can be, but science has some counter-intuitive findings that could help. (Link >>)

"Minding the details of mind wandering"

7/20/2016 | The Harvard Gazette
Postdoctoral fellow Paul Seli has found that mind wandering is not always the unintended byproduct of boredom, but often an intentional — and beneficial — cognitive activity. (Link >>)

Recent Updates

Welcome Cynthia!

[10/14/19] We're growing by the day! Welcome to our newest research assistant, Cynthia Thomas. Glad to have you with us!

Home Sweet Home

[9/12/19] Our newly renovated lab space is finally open for business - be sure to stop by and say hello!

Welcome Nathan!

[9/1/19] A lab is nothing without its research assistants and we are pleased to welcome our very first: Nathan Liang. Welcome aboard, Nathan!

Welcome All!

[9/1/19] The gang's all here! Welcome to our newest lab members, postdocs Nick Brosowsky and Sam Murray, and grad student Anna Smith!

Under Construction

[5/1/19] As we get ready to welcome yet more team members this summer and fall, our lab space is undergoing renovations.

Welcome to the New Site

[4/8/19] Everyone loves a makeover! We've got a new look for our site. Be sure to check back regularly as we continue to grow.

Welcome Lois!

[4/1/19] We'd like to welcome Lois Triplett as our new lab manager!

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