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Absorbed in thought: the effect of mind wandering on the processing of relevant and irrelevant events

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JournalPsychological Science
DatePublished - May 2011
Issue number5
Volume22
Number of pages6
Pages (from-to)596-601
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

This study used event-related potentials to explore whether mind wandering (task-unrelated thought, or TUT) emerges through general problems in distraction, deficits of task-relevant processing (the executive-function view), or a general reduction in attention to external events regardless of their relevance (the decoupling hypothesis). Twenty-five participants performed a visual oddball task, in which they were required to differentiate between a rare target stimulus (to measure task-relevant processes), a rare novel stimulus (to measure distractor processing), and a frequent nontarget stimulus. TUT was measured immediately following task performance using a validated retrospective measure. High levels of TUT were associated with a reduction in cortical processing of task-relevant events and distractor stimuli. These data contradict the suggestion that mind wandering is associated with distraction problems or specific deficits in task-relevant processes. Instead, the data are consistent with the decoupling hypothesis: that TUT dampens the processing of sensory information irrespective of that information's task relevance.

    Research areas

  • Photic Stimulation, Thinking, Evoked Potentials, Mental Processes, Humans, Adult, Task Performance and Analysis, Attention, Male, Female

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