Mind at Large

 

Research

 

2020 and In Press | 2019 | 2018 | 2017 | 2016 |


2020 and In Press

Siu Ping Ho, N., Baker, D., Karapanagiotidis, T., Seli, P., Wang, H., Leech, R., Bernhardt, B., Margulies, D., Jefferies, E., & Smallwood. (in press). Missing the forest because of the trees: Slower alternations during binocular rivalry are associated with lower levels of visual detail. Neuroscience of Consciousness. https://doi.org/10.1101/2019.12.31.891853
Conscious awareness of the world fluctuates, either through variation in the quality with which we perceive the environment, or, when attention switches to information generated using imagination rather than the external environment. Our study combined individual differences in experience sampling, psychophysical reports of perception, and neuroimaging descriptions of structural connectivity, to better understand these changes in conscious awareness. In particular, we (a) examined if aspects of ongoing thought, as measured by multi-dimensional experience sampling during a sustained attention task, are associated with the white matter fibre organization of the cortex as reflected by their relative degree of anisotropic diffusion, and (b) whether these neuro-cognitive descriptions of ongoing experience are related to a more constrained measure of visual consciousness provided by the analysis of bistable perception during binocular rivalry. Individuals with greater fractional anisotropy (FA) in right hemisphere white matter regions involving the inferior fronto-occipital fasciculus, the superior longitudinal fasciculus and the cortico-spinal tract, described their ongoing thoughts as lacking external details. Subsequent analysis indicated that the combination of low FA in these right hemisphere regions, with reports of high level external details, was associated with the shortest periods of dominance during binocular rivalry. Since variation in binocular rivalry reflects differences between bottom-up and top-down influences on vision, our study suggests that reports of ongoing thoughts with vivid external details may occur when conscious precedence is given to bottom-up representation of perceptual information and that this may partly be rooted in the white matter fibre organization of the cortex.
Brosowsky, N. P., DeGutis, J., Esterman, M., Smilek, D., & Seli, P. (in press) Mind wandering, motivation, and task performance over time: Evidence that motivation insulates people from the negative effects of mind wandering. Psychology of Consciousness: Theory, Research, & Practice. https://nbrosowsky.github.io/papers/2020-motivation.pdf
Here, we examined whether participant motivation is associated with fluctuations of attentional engagement and performance over time. We gauged participants’ motivation and depth of mind wandering as they completed the metronome response task (MRT) to determine whether fluctuations in inattention (indexed by task performance and depth of mind wandering) would be related to fluctuations in motivation. As in prior work, we found that, with increasing time on task, (a) self-reported depth of mind wandering increased, (b) task performance decreased, and (c) motivation waned. Extending this work, we found an interaction between motivation and mind wandering such that mind wandering was negatively associated with task performance when motivation was low, but unrelated to performance when motivation was high. These results suggest that motivation may help improve task performance by reducing the depth of mind wandering, while also providing insulation from the negative effects of mind wandering, when it does occur. Data, analysis code, manuscript preparation code, and pre-print available at osf.io/t45pb
Stanley, M. L., Whitehead, P. S., Sinnott-Armstrong, W., & Seli, P. (in press). Exposure to opposing reasons reduces derogation of ideological opponents. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. https://doi.org/10.31234/osf.io/w9tp2
Americans have become increasingly likely to dislike, distrust, and derogate their ideological opponents on contemporary social and political issues. We hypothesized that a lack of exposure to compelling reasons, arguments, and evidence from ideological opponents might at least partly explain negative views of those opponents. Consistent with this hypothesis, we found that participants assume their ideological opponents, in comparison to their ideological allies, are lesslikely to have good reasons for their positions. Moreover, we found that the more strongly participants believe their opponents lack good reasons for their positions, the more likely they are to report that those opponents lack both intellectual capabilities and moral character. Critically, exposure to arguments favoring their opponents’ position produced more favorable impressions of those opponents. We discuss possible implications of these results for the role of reasons and reasoning in political discourse, and for productive disagreement in a functioning democracy.
Frith, E., Elbich, D., Christensen, A. P., Rosenberg, M. D., Chen, Q., Silvia, P.J., Seli, P., & Beaty, R. E. (in press). Intelligence and creativity share a common cognitive and neural basis. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. https://doi.org/10.31234/osf.io/hj3fr
Are intelligence and creativity distinct abilities, or do they rely on the same cognitive and neural systems? We sought to quantify the extent to which intelligence and creative cognition overlap in brain and behavior by combining machine learning of fMRI data and latent variable modeling of cognitive ability data in a sample of young adults (N= 186) who completed a battery of intelligence and creative thinking tasks. The study had three analytic goals: (a) to assess contributions of specific facets of intelligence (e.g., fluid and crystallized intelligence) and general intelligence to creative ability (i.e., divergent thinking originality), (b) to model whole-brain functional connectivity networks that predict intelligence facets and creative ability, and (c) to quantify the degree to which these predictive networks overlap in the brain. Using structural equation modeling, we found moderate to large correlations between intelligence facets and creative ability, as well as a large correlation between general intelligence and creative ability (r= .63). Using connectome-based predictive modeling, we found that functional brain networks that predict intelligence facets overlap to varying degrees with a network that predicts creative ability, particularly within the prefrontal cortex of the executive control network. Notably, a network that predicted general intelligence shared 46% of its functional connections with a network that predicted creative ability—including connections linking executive control and salience/ventral attention networks—suggesting that intelligence and creative thinking rely on similar neural and cognitive systems.
Sinclair, A. H., Stanley, M. L., & Seli, P. (in press). Closed-minded cognition: Right-wing authoritarianism is negatively related to belief updating following prediction error. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review. https://doi.org/10.31234/osf.io/94a7v
When confronted with information that challenges our beliefs,we must often learn from error in order tosuccessfullynavigate the world. Past studies in reinforcement learning and educational psychology have linked prediction error, a measure of surprise, to successful learning from feedback. However, there are substantial individual differences in belief-updating success, and the psychological factors that influencebelief updating remain unclear. Here, we identify a novel factorthat may predict belief updating: Right-Wing Authoritarianism (RWA), which is characterized bya desire for order, structure, and preservation of social norms. We hypothesized that, because people who score high on RWA are motivated to preserve entrenched beliefs, they may often fail to successfully update their beliefs when confronted with new information. Using a novel paradigm, we challenged participants’ false beliefs and misconceptions to elicit prediction error. In two studies, we found consistent evidence that high-RWA individuals were less successful at correcting their false beliefs. Relative to low-RWA individuals, high-RWA individuals were less likely to revise beliefs in response to prediction error. We argue that RWA is associated with a relatively closed-minded cognitive style that negatively influences belief updating.
Gross, M., Smith, A. P., Graveline, Y., Beaty, R., Schooler, J., & Seli, P. (in press). Comparing the phenomenological qualities of stimulus-independent thought, stimulus-dependent thought, and dreams using experience sampling. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. https://doi.org/10.31234/osf.io/73ruq
Humans spend a considerable portion of their lives engaged in “stimulus-independent thoughts” (SIT), or mental activity that occurs independently of input from the immediate external environment. Although such SITs are, by definition, different from thoughts that are driven by stimuli in one’s external environment (i.e., stimulus-dependent thoughts; SDTs), at times, the phenomenology of these two types of thought appears to be deceptively similar. But how similar are they? We address this question by comparing the content of two types of SIT (dreaming and waking stimulus-independent thoughts) with the contentof SDTs. In this seven-day, smartphone-based experience-sampling procedure, participants were intermittently probed during the day and night to indicate whether their current thoughts were stimulus dependent or stimulus independent. They then responded tocontent-based items indexing the qualitative aspects of their experience (e.g., My thoughts were jumping from topic to topic). Results indicate substantial distinctiveness between these three types of thought: significant differences between at least two of the three traits were found across every measured variable. Implications are discussed.
Stanley, M. L., Sinclair, A. H., & Seli, P. (2020). Intellectual humility and perceptions of political opponents. Journal of Personality. https://doi.org/10.1111/jopy.12566
Intellectual humility (IH) refers to the recognition that personal beliefs might be wrong. We investigate possible interpersonal implications of IH for how people perceive the intellectual capabilities and moral character of their sociopolitical opponents and for their willingness to associate with those opponents. In four initial studies (N = 1,926, M age = 38, 880 females, 1,035 males), we measured IH, intellectual and moral derogation of opponents, and willingness to befriend opponents. In two additional studies (N = 568, M age = 40, 252 females, 314 males), we presented participants with a specific opponent on certain sociopolitical issues and several social media posts from that opponent in which he expressed his views on the issue. We then measured IH, intellectual, and moral derogation of the opponent, participants' willingness to befriend the opponent, participants' willingness to “friend” the opponent on social media, and participants' willingness to “follow” the opponent on social media. Low‐IH relative to high‐IH participants were more likely to derogate the intellectual capabilities and moral character of their opponents, less willing to befriend their opponents, and less willing to “friend” and “follow” an opponent on social media. IH may have important interpersonal implications for person perception, and for understanding social extremism and polarization.
Struk, A. A., Scholer, A. A., Danckert, J., & Seli, P. (2020). Rich environments, dull experiences: how environment can exacerbate the effect of constraint on the experience of boredom. Cognition and Emotion, 1-7. https://doi.org/10.1080/02699931.2020.1763919
We examined the hypothesis that boredom is likely to occur when opportunity costs are high; that is, when there is a high potential value of engaging in activities other than the researcher-assigned activity. To this end, participants were either placed in a room with many possible affordances (e.g. a laptop, puzzle, etc.; affordances condition; n = 121), or they were ushered into an empty room (control condition; n = 107). In both conditions participants were instructed to entertain themselves with only their thoughts (hence, participants in the affordances condition were to refrain from engaging with the available options). As predicted, participants in the affordances condition reported higher levels of boredom compared with those in the control condition. Results suggest that under some conditions, environments that afford alternative activities may be more boring than those that are void of such activities.
Forrin, N. D., Mills, C., D’Mello, S. K., Risko, E. F., Smilek, D., & Seli, P. (2020). TL; DR: longer sections of text increase rates of unintentional mind-wandering. The Journal of Experimental Education, 1-13. https://doi.org/10.1080/00220973.2020.1751578
The prevalence of the acronym tl;dr (“too long; didn’t read”) suggests that people intentionally disengage their attention from long sections of text. We studied this real-world phenomenon in an educational context by measuring rates of intentional and unintentional mind-wandering while undergraduate student participants (n = 80) read academic passages that were presented in either short sections of text (one sentence per screen) or relatively long sections (2–6 sentences per screen). We found that participants were significantly more likely to unintentionally disengage their attention while reading the longer sections of text, whereas intentional mind-wandering rates were equivalent across short and long sections of text. The difference in unintentional mind-wandering rates suggests that section length may serve as a cue that people use to assess the cost-benefit tradeoffs involved in attending to (or disengaging from) text. We conclude that instructors should avoid presenting electronic reading material in long sections of text.
Ralph, B. C., Seli, P., Wilson, K. E., & Smilek, D. (2020). Volitional media multitasking: Awareness of performance costs and modulation of media multitasking as a function of task demand. Psychological Research, 84(2), 404-423. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00426-018-1056-x
In two experiments, we sought to determine whether (a) people are aware of the frequently observed performance costs associated with engaging in media multitasking (Experiment 1), and (b) if so, whether they modulate the extent to which they engage in multitasking as a function of task demand (Experiment 2). In Experiment 1, participants completed a high-demand task (2-back) both independently and while a video was simultaneously presented. To determine whether people were sensitive to the impact that the concurrent video had on primary-task performance, subjective estimates of performance were collected following both trial types (No-Video vs. Video trials), as were explicit beliefs about the influence of the video on performance. In Experiment 2, we modified our paradigm by allowing participants to turn the video on and off at their discretion, and had them complete either a high-demand task (2-back) or a low-demand task (0-back). Findings from Experiment 1 indicated that people are sensitive to the magnitude of the decrement that media multitasking has on primary-task performance. In addition, findings from Experiment 2 indicated that people modulate the extent to which they engage in media multitasking in accordance with the demands of their primary task. In particular, participants completing the high-demand task were more likely to turn off the optional video stream compared to those completing the low-demand task. The results suggest that people media multitask in a strategic manner by balancing considerations of task performance with other potential concerns.
Seli, P., O’Neill, K., Carriere, J. S., Smilek, D., Beaty, R. E., & Schacter, D. L. (2020). Mind-wandering across the age gap: Age-related differences in mind-wandering are partially attributable to age-related differences in motivation. The Journals of Gerontology: Series B. https://doi.org/10.1093/geronb/gbaa031
A common finding in the mind-wandering literature is that older adults (OAs) tend to mind-wander less frequently than young adults (YAs). Here, we sought to determine whether this age-related difference in mind-wandering is attributable to age-related differences in motivation. YAs and OAs completed an attention task during which they responded to thought probes that assessed rates of mind-wandering, and they provided self-reports of task-based motivation before and after completion of the attention task. Age-related differences in mind-wandering are partially explained by differences in motivation, and motivating YAs via incentive diminishes mind-wandering differences across these groups. We consider these results in the context of theories on age-related differences in mind wandering, with a specific focus on their relevance to the recently proposed motivational account of such age-related differences.
Murray, S., Krasich, K., Schooler, J. W., & Seli, P. (2020). What’s in a Task? Complications in the Study of the Task-Unrelated-Thought Variety of Mind Wandering. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 15(3), 572-588. https://doi.org/10.1177%2F1745691619897966
In recent years, the number of studies examining mind wandering has increased considerably, and research on the topic has spread widely across various domains of psychological research. Athough the term mind wandering has been used to refer to various cognitive states, researchers typically operationalize mind wandering in terms of task-unrelated thought (TUT). Research on TUT has shed light on the various task features that require people’s attention and on the consequences of task inattention. Important methodological and conceptual complications do persist, however, in current investigations of TUT. We argue that these complications may be dampening the development of a more nuanced scientific account of TUT. In this article, we outline three of the more prominent methodological and conceptual complications in the literature on TUT and discuss potential directions for researchers to take as they move forward in their investigations of TUT.

2019

Ralph, B. C., Smith, A. C., Seli, P., & Smilek, D. (2019). Yearning for distraction: Evidence for a trade-off between media multitasking and mind wandering. Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology/Revue canadienne de psychologie expérimentale. https://doi.org/10.1037/cep0000186
In two experiments, we explored the relation between participants’ (a) levels of motivation to complete a task and (b) task-unrelated media multitasking. In Experiment 1, we examined the extent to which participants’ levels of motivation to complete a task influenced their tendency to engage in task-unrelated media multitasking. Participants completed a 1-back task while having the opportunity to turn on and off an unrelated, optional video. Results showed that participants who were told they would finish the experiment early if they achieved a sufficient level of performance (the motivated group) were significantly less likely to play the optional video during the 1-back task than those who were not given the opportunity to finish early (control condition). In Experiment 2, we examined the extent to which engaging in task-unrelated media multitasking affected task-related motivation. Three groups of participants completed a 1-back task while (a) no video was presented, (b) a video was continuously played, or (c) participants could turn on and off a video at their leisure (as in Experiment 1). At both the beginning and the end of Experiment 2, participants were asked to indicate their level of motivation to complete the task. Interestingly, results revealed that continuously having the video playing helped sustain task-related motivation. Thus, although greater motivation to perform a task reduces the likelihood of engaging in task-unrelated media multitasking, such media multitasking also appears to increase levels of motivation.
15. Ralph, B. C., Smith, A. C., Seli, P., & Smilek, D. (2019). The relation between task-unrelated media multitasking and task-related motivation. Psychological Research, 1-15. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00426-019-01246-7
In two experiments, we explored the relation between participants’ (a) levels of motivation to complete a task and (b) task-unrelated media multitasking. In Experiment 1, we examined the extent to which participants’ levels of motivation to complete a task influenced their tendency to engage in task-unrelated media multitasking. Participants completed a 1-back task, while having the opportunity to turn on and off an unrelated, optional video. Results showed that participants who were told they would finish the experiment early if they achieved a sufficient level of performance (the motivated group) were significantly less likely to play the optional video during the 1-back task than those who were not given the opportunity to finish early (control condition). In Experiment 2, we examined the extent to which engaging in task-unrelated media multitasking affected task-related motivation. Three groups of participants completed a 1-back task, while (a) no video was presented, (b) a video was continuously played, or (c) participants could turn on and off a video at their leisure (as in Experiment 1). At both the beginning and the end of Experiment 2, participants were asked to indicate their level of motivation to complete the task. Interestingly, results revealed that continuously having the video playing helped sustain task-related motivation. Thus, although greater motivation to perform a task reduces the likelihood of engaging in task-unrelated media multitasking, such media multitasking also appears to increase levels of motivation.
Seli, P., Schacter, D. L., Risko, E. F., & Smilek, D. (2019). Increasing participant motivation reduces rates of intentional and unintentional mind wandering. Psychological Research, 83(5), 1057-1069. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00426-017-0914-2
We explored the possibility that increasing participants’ motivation to perform well on a focal task can reduce mind wandering. Participants completed a sustained-attention task either with standard instructions (normal motivation), or with instructions informing them that they could be excused from the experiment early if they achieved a certain level of performance (higher motivation). Throughout the task, we assessed rates of mind wandering (both intentional and unintentional types) via thought probes. Results showed that the motivation manipulation led to significant reductions in both intentional and unintentional mind wandering as well as improvements in task performance. Most critically, we found that our simple motivation manipulation led to a dramatic reduction in probe-caught mind-wandering rates (49%) compared to a control condition (67%), which suggests the utility of motivation-based methods to reduce people’s propensity to mind-wander.
Beaty, R., Seli, P., & Schacter, D. L. (2019). Thinking about the Past and Future in Daily Life: An Experience Sampling Study of Individual in Mental Time Travel. Psychological Research, 83(4), 805-816. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00426-018-1075-7
Remembering the past and imagining the future are hallmarks of mental time travel. We provide evidence that such experiences are influenced by individual differences in temporal and affective biases in cognitive style, particularly brooding rumination (a negative past-oriented bias) and optimism (a positive future-oriented bias). Participants completed a 7-day, cellphone-based experience-sampling study of temporal orientation and mental imagery. Multilevel models showed that individual differences in brooding rumination predicted less vivid and positive past- and future-oriented thoughts, even after controlling for depressed mood. People high in brooding rumination were also more likely to report thinking about a past experience when probed at random during the day. Conversely, optimists were more likely to report more vivid and positive future-oriented, but not past-oriented thoughts, although they did not report thinking more or less often about the past and future. The results suggest that temporal and affective biases in cognitive style influence how people think about the past and future in daily life.
Seli, P., Beaty, R., Marty-Dugas, J., & Smilek, D. (2019). Depression, Anxiety, and stress, and the distinction between intentional and unintentional mind wandering. Psychology of Consciousness: Theory, Research, & Practice, 6(2), 163. https://psycnet.apa.org/doi/10.1037/cns0000182
We examined whether the previously documented association between mind wandering and affective dysfunction depends, at least to some extent, on whether mind wandering episodes are intentional or unintentional. In two large samples, we assessed trait-level rates of intentional and unintentional mind wandering, as well as three different types of affective dysfunction: depression, anxiety, and stress. Results indicated that, whereas unintentional mind wandering was uniquely positively associated with all three types of affective dysfunction, intentional mind wandering was uniquely (albeit very weakly) negatively associated with stress and anxiety and had no relation to depression. These findings indicate that people who more frequently engage in unintentional types of mind wandering are more likely to report symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress, and that intentional mind wandering may buffer against these types of affective dysfunction.

Beaty, R. E., Seli, P., & Schacter, D. L. (2019). Network neuroscience of creative cognition: mapping cognitive mechanisms and individual differences in the creative brain. Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences, 27, 22-30. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cobeha.2018.08.013

Network neuroscience research is providing increasing specificity on the contribution of large-scale brain networks to creative cognition. Here, we summarize recent experimental work examining cognitive mechanisms of network interactions and correlational studies assessing network dynamics associated with individual creative abilities. Our review identifies three cognitive processes related to network interactions during creative performance: goal-directed memory retrieval, prepotent-response inhibition, and internally-focused attention. Correlational work using prediction modeling indicates that functional connectivity between networks — particularly the executive control and default networks — can reliably predict an individual’s creative thinking ability. We discuss potential directions for future network neuroscience, including assessing creative performance in specific domains and using brain stimulation to test causal hypotheses regarding network interactions and cognitive mechanisms of creative thought.

2018

Seli, P., Kane, M. J., Metzinger, T., Smallwood, J., Schacter, D. L., Maillet, D., ... & Smilek, D. (2018). The family-resemblances framework for mind-wandering remains well clad. Trends in cognitive sciences, 22(11), 959-961. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2018.07.007

Christoff et al.[1] reject our family-resemblances framework for mind-wandering research [2] and instead seek to characterize mind-wandering with a necessary defining feature. As an example, they point to their ‘dynamic framework’[3] that defines mind-wandering as thoughts that ‘proceed in a relatively free, unconstrained fashion.’We outline three primary points of disagreement with their commentary and two points of clarification on the family-resemblances framework.
Recent claims that people spend 30–50% of their waking lives mind wandering (Killingsworth & Gilbert, 2010; Kane et al., 2007) have become widely accepted and frequently cited. While acknowledging attention to be inconstant and wavering, and mind wandering to be ubiquitous, we argue and present evidence that such simple quantitative estimates are misleading and potentially meaningless without serious qualification. Mind-wandering estimates requiring dichotomous judgments of inner experience rely on questionable assumptions about how such judgments are made, and the resulting data do not permit straightforward interpretation. We present evidence that estimates of daily-life mind wandering vary dramatically depending on the response options provided. Offering participants a range of options in estimating task engagement yielded variable mind-wandering estimates, from approximately 60% to 10%, depending on assumptions made about how observers make introspective judgments about their mind-wandering experiences and how they understand what it means to be on- or off-task.
Recent research has indicated that reducing the difficulty of a task by increasing the predictability of critical stimuli produces increases in intentional mind wandering, but, contrary to theoretical expectations, decreases in unintentional mind wandering. Here, we sought to determine whether reducing task difficulty by reducing working-memory load would yield similar results. Participants completed an easy (Choice Response Time; CRT) task and a relatively difficult (Working Memory; WM) task, and intermittently responded to thought probes asking about intentional and unintentional mind wandering. As in prior studies, we found higher rates of intentional mind wandering during the easy compared to the more difficult task. However, we also found more unintentional mind wandering during the difficult compared to the easy task. We discuss these results in the context of theoretical accounts of mind wandering.

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. https://doi.org/10.1177%2F0956797618761039

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.
The metronome response task (MRT)—a sustained-attention task that requires participants to produce a response in synchrony with an audible metronome—was recently developed to index response variability in the context of studies on mind wandering. In the present studies, we report on the development and validation of a visual version of the MRT (the visual metronome response task; vMRT), which uses the rhythmic presentation of visual, rather than auditory, stimuli. Participants completed the vMRT (Studies 1 and 2) and the original (auditory-based) MRT (Study 2) while also responding to intermittent thought probes asking them to report the depth of their mind wandering. The results showed that (1) individual differences in response variability during the vMRT are highly reliable; (2) prior to thought probes, response variability increases with increasing depth of mind wandering; (3) response variability is highly consistent between the vMRT and the original MRT; and (4) both response variability and depth of mind wandering increase with increasing time on task. Our results indicate that the original MRT findings are consistent across the visual and auditory modalities, and that the response variability measured in both tasks indexes a non-modality-specific tendency toward behavioral variability. The vMRT will be useful in the place of the MRT in experimental contexts in which researchers’ designs require a visual-based primary task.

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. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2018.03.010

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., 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. https://psycnet.apa.org/doi/10.1037/xge0000385

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.

2017

Seli, P., Ralph, B. C., Risko, E. F., Schooler, J. W., Schacter, D. L., & Smilek, D. (2017). Intentionality and meta-awareness of mind wandering: Are they one and the same, or distinct dimensions?. Psychonomic bulletin & review, 24(6), 1808-1818. https://doi.org/10.3758/s13423-017-1249-0

Researchers have recently demonstrated that mind-wandering episodes can vary on numerous dimensions, and it has been suggested that assessing these dimensions will play an important role in our understanding of mind wandering. One dimension that has received considerable attention in recent work is the intentionality of mind wandering. Although it has been claimed that indexing the intentionality of mind wandering will be necessary if researchers are to obtain a coherent understanding of the wandering mind, one concern is that this dimension might be redundant with another, longstanding, dimension: namely, meta-awareness. Thus, the utility of the argument for assessing intentionality rests upon a demonstration that this dimension is distinct from the meta-awareness dimension. To shed light on this issue, across two studies we compared and contrasted these dimensions to determine whether they are redundant or distinct. In both studies, we found support for the view that these dimensions are distinct.

Maillet, D., Seli, P., & Schacter, D. L. (2017). Mind-wandering and task stimuli: Stimulus-dependent thoughts influence performance on memory tasks and are more often past-versus future-oriented. Consciousness and cognition, 52, 55-67. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.concog.2017.04.014

Although many studies have indicated that participants frequently mind-wander during experimental tasks, relatively little research has examined the extent to which such thoughts are triggered by task stimuli (stimulus-dependent thoughts; SDTs) versus internally triggered (stimulus-independent thoughts; SITs). In the current experiment, we assessed differences in the frequency and characteristics of SDTs and SITs, as well as their associations with subsequent memory in young adults. Whereas frequency of SDTs (but not SITs) increased in a task with more meaningful stimuli, frequency of SITs (but not SDTs) increased in an easier task. Furthermore, only SDTs were more likely to be past- versus future-oriented. Finally, frequency and vividness of SDTs during a shallow, but not a deep, incidental encoding task both correlated with later memory performance for word stimuli. These results suggest that SDTs differ from SITs in several important ways.

Seli, P., Maillet, D., Smilek, D., Oakman, J. M., & Schacter, D. L. (2017). Cognitive aging and the distinction between intentional and unintentional mind wandering. Psychology and aging, 32(4), 315. https://psycnet.apa.org/doi/10.1037/pag0000172

A growing number of studies have reported age-related reductions in the frequency of mind wandering. Here, at both the trait (Study 1) and state (Study 2) levels, we reexamined this association while distinguishing between intentional (deliberate) and unintentional (spontaneous) mind wandering. Based on research demonstrating age-accompanied deficits in executive functioning, we expected to observe increases in unintentional mind wandering with increasing age. Moreover, because aging is associated with increased task motivation, we reasoned that older adults might be more engaged in their tasks, and hence, show a more pronounced decline in intentional mind wandering relative to young adults. In both studies, we found that older adults did indeed report lower rates of intentional mind wandering compared with young adults. However, contrary to our expectations, we also found that older adults reported lower rates of unintentional mind wandering (Studies 1 and 2). We discuss the implications of these findings for theories of age-related declines in mind wandering.

Xu, M., Purdon, C., Seli, P., & Smilek, D. (2017). Mindfulness and mind wandering: The protective effects of brief meditation in anxious individuals. Consciousness and cognition, 51, 157-165. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.concog.2017.03.009

Mind wandering can be costly, especially when we are engaged in attentionally demanding tasks. Preliminary studies suggest that mindfulness can be a promising antidote for mind wandering, albeit the evidence is mixed. To better understand the exact impact of mindfulness on mind wandering, we had a sample of highly anxious undergraduate students complete a sustained-attention task during which off-task thoughts including mind wandering were assessed. Participants were randomly assigned to a meditation or control condition, after which the sustained-attention task was repeated. In general, our results indicate that mindfulness training may only have protective effects on mind wandering for anxious individuals. Meditation prevented the increase of mind wandering over time and ameliorated performance disruption during off-task episodes. In addition, we found that the meditation intervention appeared to promote a switch of attentional focus from the internal to present-moment external world, suggesting important implications for treating worrying in anxious populations.

Seli, P., Ralph, B. C., Konishi, M., Smilek, D., & Schacter, D. L. (2017). What did you have in mind? Examining the content of intentional and unintentional types of mind wandering. Consciousness and Cognition, 51, 149-156. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.concog.2017.03.007

It has recently been argued that researchers should distinguish between mind wandering (MW) that is engaged with and without intention. Supporting this argument, studies have found that intentional and unintentional MW have behavioral/neural differences, and that they are differentially associated with certain variables of theoretical interest. Although there have been considerable inroads made into the distinction between intentional/unintentional MW, possible differences in their content remain unexplored. To determine whether these two types of MW differ in content, we had participants complete a task during which they categorized their MW as intentional or unintentional, and then provided responses to questions about the content of their MW. Results indicated that intentional MW was more frequently rated as being future-oriented and less vague than unintentional MW. These findings shed light on the nature of intentional and unintentional MW and provide support for the argument that researchers should distinguish between intentional and unintentional types.

Seli, P., Risko, E. F., Purdon, C., & Smilek, D. (2017). Intrusive thoughts: Linking spontaneous mind wandering and OCD symptomatology. Psychological Research, 81(2), 392-398. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00426-016-0756-3

One recent line of research in the literature on mind wandering has been concerned with examining rates of mind wandering in special populations, such as those characterized by attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, dysphoria, and schizophrenia. To best conceptualize mind wandering in studies examining special populations, it has recently been suggested that researchers distinguish between deliberate and spontaneous subtypes of this experience. Extending this line of research on mind wandering in special populations, in a large non-clinical sample (N = 2636), we examined how rates of deliberate and spontaneous mind wandering vary with symptoms of obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD). Results indicate that, whereas deliberate mind wandering is not associated with OCD symptomatology, spontaneous mind wandering is, with higher reports of spontaneous mind wandering being associated with higher reports of OCD symptoms. We discuss the implications of these results for understanding both mind wandering and OCD.

Golchert, J., Smallwood, J., Jefferies, E., Seli, P., Huntenburg, J. M., Liem, F., ... & Margulies, D. S. (2017). Individual variation in intentionality in the mind-wandering state is reflected in the integration of the default-mode, fronto-parietal, and limbic networks. NeuroImage, 146, 226-235. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2016.11.025

Mind-wandering has a controversial relationship with cognitive control. Existing psychological evidence supports the hypothesis that episodes of mind-wandering reflect a failure to constrain thinking to task-relevant material, as well the apparently alternative view that control can facilitate the expression of self-generated mental content. We assessed whether this apparent contradiction arises because of a failure to consider differences in the types of thoughts that occur during mind-wandering, and in particular, the associated level of intentionality. Using multi-modal magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) analysis, we examined the cortical organisation that underlies inter-individual differences in descriptions of the spontaneous or deliberate nature of mind-wandering. Cortical thickness, as well as functional connectivity analyses, implicated regions relevant to cognitive control and regions of the default-mode network for individuals who reported high rates of deliberate mind-wandering. In contrast, higher reports of spontaneous mind-wandering were associated with cortical thinning in parietal and posterior temporal regions in the left hemisphere (which are important in the control of cognition and attention) as well as heightened connectivity between the intraparietal sulcus and a region that spanned limbic and default-mode regions in the ventral inferior frontal gyrus. Finally, we observed a dissociation in the thickness of the retrosplenial cortex/lingual gyrus, with higher reports of spontaneous mind-wandering being associated with thickening in the left hemisphere, and higher repots of deliberate mind-wandering with thinning in the right hemisphere. These results suggest that the intentionality of the mind-wandering state depends on integration between the control and default-mode networks, with more deliberation being associated with greater integration between these systems. We conclude that one reason why mind-wandering has a controversial relationship with control is because it depends on whether the thoughts emerge in a deliberate or spontaneous fashion.

2016

Memory can be divided into recollection and familiarity. Recollection is characterized as the ability to vividly re-experience past events, and is believed to be supported by the hippocampus, whereas familiarity is defined as an undifferentiated feeling of knowing or acquaintance, and is believed to be supported by extra-hippocampal regions, such as the perirhinal cortex. Recent evidence suggests that the neural architectures of the hippocampus and neocortex lead information in these regions being susceptible to different forgetting processes. We expand on these accounts and propose that the neocortex may be sensitive to the semantic content of a trace, with more meaningful traces being more easily retained. The hippocampus, in contrast, is not hypothesized to be influenced by semantics in the same way. To test this new account, we use a continuous-recognition paradigm to examine the forgetting rates words and nonwords that are either recollected or familiar. We find that words and nonwords that are recollected are equally likely to be forgotten over time. However, nonwords that are familiar are more likely to be forgotten over time than are words that are familiar. Our results support recent neuropsychologically-based forgetting theories of recollection and familiarity and provide new insight into how and why representations are forgotten over time.
The past decade has seen a surge of research examining mind-wandering, but most of this research has not considered the potential importance of distinguishing between intentional and unintentional mind-wandering. However, a recent series of papers have demonstrated that mind-wandering reported in empirical investigations frequently occurs with and without intention, and, more crucially, that intentional and unintentional mind-wandering are dissociable. This emerging literature suggests that, to increase clarity in the literature, there is a need to reconsider the bulk of the mind-wandering literature with an eye toward deconvolving these two different cognitive experiences. In this review we highlight recent trends in investigations of the intentionality of mind-wandering, and we outline a novel theoretical framework regarding the mechanisms underlying intentional and unintentional mind-wandering.

Seli, P., Wammes, J. D., Risko, E. F., & Smilek, D. (2016). On the relation between motivation and retention in educational contexts: The role of intentional and unintentional mind wandering. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 23(4), 1280-1287. https://doi.org/10.3758/s13423-015-0979-0

Highly motivated students often exhibit better academic performance than less motivated students. However, to date, the specific cognitive mechanisms through which motivation increases academic achievement are not well understood. Here we explored the possibility that mind wandering mediates the relation between motivation and academic performance, and additionally, we examined possible mediation by both intentional and unintentional forms of mind wandering. We found that participants reporting higher motivation to learn in a lecture-based setting tended to engage in less mind wandering, and that this decrease in mind wandering was in turn associated with greater retention of the lecture material. Critically, we also found that the influence of motivation on retention was mediated by both intentional and unintentional types of mind wandering. Not only do the present results advance our theoretical understanding of the mechanisms underlying the relation between motivation and academic achievement, they also provide insights into possible methods of intervention that may be useful in improving student retention in educational settings.

Seli, P., Risko, E. F., & Smilek, D. (2016). On the necessity of distinguishing between unintentional and intentional mind wandering. Psychological Science, 27(5), 685-691. https://doi.org/10.1177%2F0956797616634068

In recent years, there has been an enormous increase in the number of studies examining mind wandering. Although participants’ reports of mind wandering are often assumed to largely reflect spontaneous, unintentional thoughts, many researchers’ conceptualizations of mind wandering have left open the possibility that at least some of these reports reflect deliberate, intentional thought. Critically, however, in most investigations on the topic, researchers have not separately assessed each type of mind wandering; instead, they have measured mind wandering as a unitary construct, thereby conflating intentional and unintentional types. We report the first compelling evidence that an experimental manipulation can have qualitatively different effects on intentional and unintentional types of mind wandering. This result provides clear evidence that researchers interested in understanding mind wandering need to consider the distinction between unintentional and intentional occurrences of this phenomenon.

Seli, P., Risko, E. F., & Smilek, D. (2016). Assessing the associations among trait and state levels of deliberate and spontaneous mind wandering. Consciousness and Cognition, 41, 50-56. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.concog.2016.02.002

Recent research has demonstrated that mind wandering can be subdivided into spontaneous and deliberate types, and this distinction has been found to hold at both the trait and state levels. However, to date, no attempts have been made to link trait-level spontaneous and deliberate mind wandering with state-level assessments of these two subtypes of mind wandering. Here we evaluated whether trait-level deliberate and spontaneous mind wandering map onto state levels of these subtypes of mind wandering. Results showed correspondence between trait-level reports of spontaneous and deliberate mind wandering and their state-level counterparts, indicating that people’s reports on the intentionality of their mind wandering in the laboratory correspond to their reports of the intentionality of mind wandering in everyday life. Thus, the trait- and state-level scales of mind wandering were found to validate each other: Whereas the state-level measures provided some construct validity for the trait-level measures, the trait-level measures indicated that the state-level measures may be generalizable to everyday situations.
There is an ongoing debate about the mechanisms purported to underlie performance in the Sustained-Attention-to-Response Task (SART). Whereas the Attention-Lapse account posits that SART errors result from attentional disengagement, the Motor Decoupling account proposes that SART errors result from failures to inhibit a fast, prepotent motor response, despite adequate attention to the task. That SART performance might be fully accounted for by motor decoupling is problematic for a Attention-Lapse account, and for the use of the SART as an index of attention lapses. To test whether SART performance is in fact fully accounted for by motor decoupling, I examined the relation between SART performance and attention lapses while controlling for motor decoupling. The results were clear: The SART was associated with attention lapses independently of motor decoupling. Thus, the present study suggests that both accounts are correct and that the SART is a valid measure of attention lapses.

Wammes, J. D., Seli, P., Cheyne, J. A., Boucher, P. O., & Smilek, D. (2016). Mind wandering during lectures II: Relation to academic performance. Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology, 2(1), 33. https://psycnet.apa.org/doi/10.1037/stl0000055

We explored whether students’ (N = 154) engagement in mind wandering (both intentional and unintentional forms) throughout a 12-week undergraduate course was related to their performance on in-class quiz questions and later course exams. Intermittently presented thought-probes sampled mind-wandering rates during lectures, and retention of lecture information was gauged by later quiz and exam performance. A number of self-report measures including overall grade-point average (GPA), motivation to learn, and overall propensity to mind wander were also collected. Among the many results of our study, we found that at the group level students’ bouts of intentional, t = 2.37, p < .05, but not unintentional, t = 1.39, p = .17, mind wandering resulted in poorer quiz scores than did periods of on-task focus. At the level of individual differences, regression and mediation analyses revealed that intentional mind wandering was most strongly linked to short-term performance costs, measured by quiz performance (intentional: β = −.23, p < .01; unintentional: β = −.16, p = .06). Conversely, unintentional mind wandering was most strongly related to longer term performance costs, measured by exam performance (intentional: β = −.01, p = .90; unintentional: β = −.14, p = .06). Interestingly, mind wandering was found to be associated with performance independently of other known determinants of performance (e.g., GPA, class attendance). Together these findings provide evidence that (a) mind wandering during university lectures is associated with significant performance costs, and (b) the nature of these costs depends on whether the mind-wandering episode was intentional or unintentional.

Wammes, J. D., Boucher, P. O., Seli, P., Cheyne, J. A., & Smilek, D. (2016). Mind wandering during lectures I: Changes in rates across an entire semester. Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology, 2(1), 13. https://psycnet.apa.org/doi/10.1037/stl0000053

It is a commonly held notion that in university lectures, the attention of a student wanes as time elapses. Despite widespread endorsement of this belief, research has not yet verified its accuracy in a real lecture setting. Here, we tested this common belief by examining rates of students’ (N = 154, 97 women, 57 men) mind wandering (both intentional and unintentional forms) throughout a 12-week undergraduate course, collecting over 5,000 individual observations of mind wandering. Thought-probes were placed intermittently within lectures to assess mind-wandering rates on a large scale, and to evaluate how these rates changed over time within an average lecture, an average week, and the term. Among the many results of our study, we found, quite surprisingly, that unintentional mind-wandering rates were relatively low (14%) and that mind wandering did not, as often assumed, increase over time during the lectures. Rather, the main effect over time in lectures, F = 4.92, p < .01 was driven by a slight decrease in mind wandering toward the end of a lecture, t = 3.97, p < .001. Moreover, we found that mind wandering was lowest at midweek, relative to Monday, t = 3.07, p < .01 and Friday, t = 3.21, p < .01. Based on these results, we conclude that unwanted and steadily increasing mind wandering need not always manifest in traditional lecture settings. In addition to the foregoing, we provide extensive information about the fluctuations of mind wandering in an ecologically valid lecture setting.