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Dimensions of Experience: Exploring the Heterogeneity of the Wandering Mind

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JournalPsychological Science
DateAccepted/In press - 1 Aug 2017
DateE-pub ahead of print - 13 Nov 2017
DatePublished (current) - 1 Jan 2018
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)56-71
Early online date13/11/17
Original languageEnglish


The tendency for the mind to wander to concerns other than the task in hand is a fundamental feature of human cognition, yet the consequence of variations in its experiential content for psychological functioning are not well understood. Here, we adopted a multivariate pattern analysis approach, simultaneously decomposing experience sampling data with neural functional connectivity data, revealing dimensions that simultaneously describe individual variation in self-reported experience and default mode network connectivity. We identified dimensions corresponding to traits of positive, habitual thoughts and spontaneous task-unrelated thoughts. These dimensions were uniquely related to aspects of cognition, such as executive control and the ability to generate information in a creative fashion, and independently distinguished well-being measures. These data provide the most convincing evidence to date for an ontological view of the mind-wandering state as encompassing a broad range of different experiences and that this heterogeneity underlies its complex relationship to psychological functioning.

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