Publications by authors named "Daniel Smilek"

122 Publications

Contrasting Mind-Wandering, (Dark) Flow, and Affect During Multiline and Single-Line Slot Machine Play.

J Gambl Stud 2021 May 6. Epub 2021 May 6.

Department of Psychology, University of Waterloo, 200 University Avenue West, Waterloo, ON, N2L 3G1, Canada.

Slot machines are a very popular form of gambling in which a small proportion of gamblers experience gambling-related problems. These players refer to a trance-like state that researchers have labelled 'dark flow'-a pleasurable, but maladaptive state where players become completely occupied by the game. We assessed 110 gamblers for mindfulness (using the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale), gambling problems (using the Problem Gambling Severity Index), depressive symptoms (using the Depression, Anxiety, and Stress Scale), and boredom proneness (using the Boredom Proneness Scale). Participants played both a multiline and single-line slot machine simulator and were occasionally interrupted with thought probes to assess whether they were thinking about the game or something else. After playing each game, we retrospectively assessed dark flow and affect during play. Our key results were that the number of "on-game" reports during the multiline game were significantly higher than the single-line game, and that we found significantly greater flow during the multiline game than the single-line game. We also found significantly lower negative affect during the multiline game than the single-line game. Using hierarchical multiple regression, we found that dark flow accounted for unique variance when predicting problem gambling severity (over and above depression, mindfulness, and boredom proneness). These assessments help bolster our previous assertions about escape gambling-if some players are prone to having their mind-wander to negative places, the frequent but unpredictable reinforcement of multiline slot machines may help rein in the wandering mind and prevent minds from unintentionally wandering to negative thoughts.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10899-021-10027-0DOI Listing
May 2021

Attention spreads between students in a learning environment.

J Exp Psychol Appl 2021 Mar 11. Epub 2021 Mar 11.

Department of Psychology.

We propose a novel phenomenon, defined as the spread of attentive (or inattentive) states among members of a group. We examined attention contagion in a learning environment in which pairs of undergraduate students watched a lecture video. Each pair consisted of a participant and a confederate trained to exhibit attentive behaviors (e.g., leaning forward) or inattentive behaviors (e.g., slouching). In Experiment 1, confederates sat in front of participants and could be seen. Relative to participants who watched the lecture with an inattentive confederate, participants with an attentive confederate: (a) self-reported higher levels of attentiveness, (b) behaved more attentively (e.g., took more notes), and (c) had better memory for lecture content. In Experiment 2, confederates sat behind participants. Despite confederates not being visible, participants were still aware of whether confederates were acting attentively or inattentively, and participants were still susceptible to attention contagion. Our findings suggest that distraction is one factor that contributes to the spread of inattentiveness (Experiment 1), but this phenomenon apparently can still occur in the absence of distraction (Experiment 2). We propose an account of how (in)attentiveness spreads across students and discuss practical implications regarding how learning is affected in the classroom. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2021 APA, all rights reserved).
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/xap0000341DOI Listing
March 2021

Re-examining the effect of motivation on intentional and unintentional task-unrelated thought: accounting for thought constraint produces novel results.

Psychol Res 2021 Feb 25. Epub 2021 Feb 25.

Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, Duke University, 417 Chapel Dr, Durham, NC, 22708, USA.

It has been proposed that motivating participants to perform well on a cognitive task ought to lead to decreases in rates of intentional, but not unintentional, task-unrelated thought (TUT; a commonly studied variety of mind wandering). However, at odds with this prediction, research has found that increasing motivation results in decreases in both intentional and unintentional TUTs. One possible explanation for this surprising finding is that standard assessments of TUT may inadvertently conflate TUTs with another variety of mind wandering: unconstrained thought. If so, then deconfounding task-unrelated and unconstrained varieties of mind wandering might produce the predicted effect of a decrease in intentional, but not unintentional, TUT when motivation is increased. To explore this possibility, in the present study, participants completed a sustained-attention task after receiving standard instructions (normal-motivation condition) or instructions informing them that they could leave the study early if they achieved a certain level of performance (motivated condition). Throughout the task, we assessed rates of TUT (both intentional and unintentional) and unconstrained thoughts. Consistent with prior work, the results indicated that motivated participants reported being on-task significantly more frequently than non-motivated participants. However, unlike previous work, we found that when deconfounding TUTs and unconstrained thoughts, participants in the motivation condition reported significantly fewer bouts of intentional TUT than those in the non-motivation condition, but no differences in rates of unintentional TUT were observed between groups. These results suggest that (a) motivation specifically targets intentional TUT and (b) standard assessments of TUT conflate task-relatedness and thought constraint.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s00426-021-01487-5DOI Listing
February 2021

Sustained attention and the experience of flow.

Psychol Res 2020 Nov 22. Epub 2020 Nov 22.

University of Waterloo, 200 University Avenue West, Waterloo, ON, Canada.

The state of flow-often referred to as being "in the zone"-is characterized by the experience of deep, effortless concentration on the activity one is engaged in. While much of the flow literature seems to imply a tight link between flow and attention processes, relatively little work has assessed this question empirically. In the present study, we explored how the experience of flow relates to behavioural performance on the Sustained Attention to Response Task (SART). Flow was indexed at the state level using thought-probes and at the trait level via questionnaires. The main finding was that those who experienced more state-level flow during the SART made fewer commission errors during the task, indicating that flow is linked to better sustained attention. Interestingly, the correlation between flow and sustained attention performance was found to increase in the second half of the task. While trait flow was not related to SART performance, it was found to be predictive of state flow during the task, such that those who tended to experience higher levels of flow in their everyday lives also experienced more flow during the experiment.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s00426-020-01433-xDOI Listing
November 2020

Does Posture Influence the Stroop Effect?

Psychol Sci 2020 11 5;31(11):1452-1460. Epub 2020 Oct 5.

Department of Psychology, University of Waterloo.

Rosenbaum, Mama, and Algom (2017) reported that participants who completed the Stroop task (i.e., name the hue of a color word when the hue and word meaning are congruent or incongruent) showed a smaller Stroop effect (i.e., the difference in response times between congruent and incongruent trials) when they performed the task standing than when sitting. We report five attempted replications (analyzed sample sizes: = 108, = 108, = 98, = 78, and = 51, respectively) of Rosenbaum et al.'s findings, which were conducted in two institutions. All experiments yielded the standard Stroop effect, but we failed to detect any consistent effect of posture (sitting vs. standing) on the magnitude of the Stroop effect. Taken together, the results suggest that posture does not influence the magnitude of the Stroop effect to the extent that was previously suggested.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0956797620953842DOI Listing
November 2020

Using deliberate mind-wandering to escape negative mood states: Implications for gambling to escape.

J Behav Addict 2020 Oct 2;9(3):723-733. Epub 2020 Oct 2.

1Department of Psychology, University of Waterloo, 200 University Avenue West, Waterloo, ON, N2L 3G1, Canada.

Background And Aims: Slot machines are a pervasive form of gambling in North America. Some gamblers describe entering "the slot machine zone"-a complete immersion into slots play to the exclusion of all else.

Methods: We assessed 111 gamblers for mindfulness (using the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale (MAAS)), gambling problems (using the Problem Gambling Severity Index (PGSI)), depressive symptoms (using the Depression, Anxiety, and Stress Scale), and boredom proneness (using the Boredom Proneness Scale). In a counterbalanced order, participants played a slot machine simulator and completed an auditory vigilance task. During each task, participants were interrupted with thought probes to assess whether they were: on-task, spontaneously mind-wandering, or deliberately mind-wandering. After completing each task, we retrospectively assessed flow and affect. Compared to the more exciting slots play, we propose that gamblers may use deliberate mind-wandering as a maladaptive means to regulate affect during a repetitive vigilance task.

Results: Our key results were that gamblers reported greater negative affect following the vigilance task (when compared to slots) and greater positive affect following slots play (when compared to the vigilance task). We also found that those who scored higher in problem gambling were more likely to use deliberate mind-wandering as a means to cope with negative affect during the vigilance task. Using hierarchical multiple regression, we found that the number of "deliberately mind-wandering" responses accounted for unique variance when predicting problem gambling severity (over and above depression, mindfulness, and boredom proneness).

Conclusions: These assessments highlight a potential coping mechanism used by problem gamblers in order to deal with negative affect.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1556/2006.2020.00067DOI Listing
October 2020

Dissociating the freely-moving thought dimension of mind-wandering from the intentionality and task-unrelated thought dimensions.

Psychol Res 2020 Sep 15. Epub 2020 Sep 15.

Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, Duke University, 417 Chapel Dr, Durham, NC, 27708, USA.

The recently forwarded family-resemblances framework of mind-wandering argues that mind-wandering is a multidimensional construct consisting of a variety of exemplars. On this view, membership in the mind-wandering family is graded along various dimensions that define more or less prototypical instances of mind-wandering. In recent work, three dimensions that have played a prominent role in defining prototypicality within the mind-wandering family include: (a) task-relatedness (i.e., how related the content of a thought is to an ongoing task), (b) intentionality (i.e., whether thought is deliberately or spontaneously engaged), and (c) thought constraint (i.e., how much attention constrains thought dynamics). One concern, however, is that these dimensions may be redundant with each other. The utility of distinguishing among these different dimensions of mind-wandering rests upon a demonstration that they are dissociable. To shed light on this issue, we indexed the task-relatedness, intentionality, and constraint dimensions of thought during the completion of a laboratory task to evaluate how these dimensions relate to each other. We found that 56% of unconstrained thoughts were "on-task" and that 23% of constrained thoughts were "off-task." Moreover, we found that rates of off-task thought, but not "freely-moving" (i.e., unconstrained) thought, varied as a function of expected changes in task demands, confirming that task-relatedness and thought constraint are separable dimensions. Participants also reported 21% of intentional off-task thoughts that were freely moving and 9% of unintentional off-task thoughts that were constrained. Finally, off-task thoughts were more likely to be freely-moving than unintentional. Taken together, the results suggest that these three dimensions of mind-wandering are not redundant with one another.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s00426-020-01419-9DOI Listing
September 2020

Mind-wandering across the age gap: Age-related differences in mind-wandering are partially attributable to age-related differences in motivation.

J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci 2020 Feb 28. Epub 2020 Feb 28.

Harvard University.

Objectives: 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.

Method: 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.

Results: Age-related differences in mind-wandering are partially explained by differences in motivation, and that motivating young adults via incentive diminishes mind-wandering differences across these groups.

Discussion: 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.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/geronb/gbaa031DOI Listing
February 2020

Loading… loading… The influence of download time on information search.

PLoS One 2019 6;14(12):e0226112. Epub 2019 Dec 6.

Department of Psychology, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.

When browsing online, there is considerable variation in the amount of time that one has to wait for content to appear once the link to that content has been activated (i.e., clicked). In two experiments we examined how 'download time'-a potential barrier to information access-influences search behaviour. In both experiments, participants completed a video-watching task in which they were presented with a screen containing six clickable icons, each of which represented a unique video. When participants clicked an icon, a video would begin to load and then play. The participants' task was to gain as much information from the videos as possible for a later memory test. Critically, however, the 'download time' (i.e., the time between the click on the icon and the video beginning to play) of the available videos in a given search session varied. In Experiment 1, these download times were 0 (instant), 2, or 30 seconds, and in Experiment 2, they were 5, 15, or 30 seconds. In general, we found that participants terminated and avoided videos with longer download times than videos with shorter download times. Interestingly, this effect was attenuated when the experienced download times were more similar to each other (Experiment 2) than when they were more different from each other (Experiment 1).
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http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0226112PLOS
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6897409PMC
March 2020

The relation between task-unrelated media multitasking and task-related motivation.

Psychol Res 2021 Feb 18;85(1):408-422. Epub 2019 Sep 18.

Department of Psychology, University of Waterloo, 200 University Ave. West, Waterloo, ON, N2L 3G1, Canada.

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.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s00426-019-01246-7DOI Listing
February 2021

Yearning for distraction: Evidence for a trade-off between media multitasking and mind wandering.

Can J Exp Psychol 2020 Mar 22;74(1):56-72. Epub 2019 Aug 22.

Department of Psychology, University of Waterloo.

We examined whether providing participants with the opportunity to media multitask influenced their tendency to be 'off-task.' More specifically, we were interested in whether providing participants with the opportunity to engage with an external media stream during a required (researcher-imposed) cognitive task might lead to a trade-off between mind wandering and engagement with external distractions (such as the media). We also examined the extent to which intentionality plays a role in these associations. Participants completed 2 phases of a cognitive task (1-back). During 1 phase, participants were provided the opportunity to concurrently watch a video while they performed the cognitive task; during the other, no such opportunity was provided. Throughout both phases, thought probes asked participants if they were (a) focused on the task, (b) attending to external distractions, or (c) mind wandering. If options 2 or 3 were selected, participants were further asked to report whether these forms of distraction were engaged intentionally or unintentionally. Our findings indicated that, although the opportunity to media multitask increased overall reports of being off-task, the tendency to mind-wander was significantly reduced in favour of attending to external distractions (such as the video). Of interest to the authors, overall reports of being unintentionally off-task were equivalent, irrespective of whether participants had the opportunity to media multitask or not, which suggests that the increased tendency to have an off-task locus of attention was because of intentionally shifting attention away from the primary task. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2020 APA, all rights reserved).
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/cep0000186DOI Listing
March 2020

In the lab and in the wild: How distraction and mind wandering affect attention and memory.

Cogn Res Princ Implic 2018 Nov 21;3(1):42. Epub 2018 Nov 21.

Department of Psychology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada.

The present study examined the impact that the environment has on the ability to remain attentive and retain information. Participants listened to an audiobook in either a controlled lab setting or in an uncontrolled natural setting. While listening to the audiobook, participants were randomly prompted to report their current attentional status (focused, mind wandering, or distracted). Participants performed a memory test on audiobook content at the end. Inattention (mind wandering and distraction) did not differ between the two settings. However, there was a setting by attentional state interaction: distraction rates were higher than mind wandering rates outside the lab, while inattention rates did not differ inside the lab. Memory test performance was poorer outside the lab, suggesting that increased distraction may compromise memory more than mind wandering. Collectively, the data suggest that mind wandering and distraction are distinct types of attentional failures and that past controlled lab investigations may have overestimated the role of mind wandering and underestimated the role of distraction in everyday cognition.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/s41235-018-0137-0DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6246756PMC
November 2018

How pervasive is mind wandering, really?

Conscious Cogn 2018 11 6;66:74-78. Epub 2018 Nov 6.

Department of Psychology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA.

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.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.concog.2018.10.002DOI Listing
November 2018

The Family-Resemblances Framework for Mind-Wandering Remains Well Clad.

Trends Cogn Sci 2018 11 13;22(11):959-961. Epub 2018 Sep 13.

Department of Psychology, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.

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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2018.07.007DOI Listing
November 2018

The role of task difficulty in theoretical accounts of mind wandering.

Conscious Cogn 2018 10 13;65:255-262. Epub 2018 Sep 13.

Department of Psychology, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.

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.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.concog.2018.08.005DOI Listing
October 2018

Volitional media multitasking: awareness of performance costs and modulation of media multitasking as a function of task demand.

Psychol Res 2020 Mar 17;84(2):404-423. Epub 2018 Jul 17.

Department of Psychology, University of Waterloo, 200 University Ave. West, Waterloo, ON, N2L 3G1, Canada.

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.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s00426-018-1056-xDOI Listing
March 2020

Deep, effortless concentration: re-examining the flow concept and exploring relations with inattention, absorption, and personality.

Psychol Res 2019 Nov 14;83(8):1760-1777. Epub 2018 Jun 14.

Department of Psychology, University of Waterloo, 200 University Ave. West, Waterloo, ON, N2L 3G1, Canada.

Conceptualizing the construct of flow in terms of 'deep and effortless concentration', we developed two measurement scales designed to index individual differences in flow during 'internal' tasks, such as thinking (deep effortless concentration: internal-DECI) and during 'external' tasks, such as while playing a sport (deep effortless concentration: external-DECE). These scales were highly correlated, indicating that individuals prone to experiencing flow in external contexts are also prone to experience flow in internal contexts. Nonetheless, a measurement model construing internal and external flow as related, but separate, constructs was found to fit the data significantly better than a model where they were construed as a single construct. We then explored associations between flow and various forms of everyday inattention. In addition, we explored the relation between flow and the Tellegen Absorption Scale (TAS), an index of absorption, as well as the Big Five personality traits. Amongst other things, we found that flow was negatively related to inattention, indicating that people who experience flow more frequently may experience relatively less inattention in everyday contexts.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s00426-018-1031-6DOI Listing
November 2019

Mind-Wandering as a Natural Kind: A Family-Resemblances View.

Trends Cogn Sci 2018 06;22(6):479-490

Department of Psychology, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, ON, Canada.

As empirical research on mind-wandering accelerates, we draw attention to an emerging trend in how mind-wandering is conceptualized. Previously articulated definitions of mind-wandering differ from each other in important ways, yet they also maintain overlapping characteristics. This conceptual structure suggests that mind-wandering is best considered from a family-resemblances perspective, which entails treating it as a graded, heterogeneous construct and clearly measuring and describing the specific aspect(s) of mind-wandering that researchers are investigating. We believe that adopting this family-resemblances approach will increase conceptual and methodological connections among related phenomena in the mind-wandering family and encourage a more nuanced and precise understanding of the many varieties of mind-wandering.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2018.03.010DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5962028PMC
June 2018

Boredom: Under-aroused and restless.

Conscious Cogn 2018 05 7;61:24-37. Epub 2018 Apr 7.

Department of Psychology, University of Waterloo, 200 University Avenue West, Waterloo N2L 3G1, Ontario, Canada.

Boredom is a common experience associated with a range of negative outcomes. Debate remains as to whether boredom should be considered a high or low arousal state. We employed passages of text to induce either boredom or interest and probed self-reported levels of boredom, arousal, and restlessness. Results replicated known associations between mind-wandering and state boredom (i.e., mind-wandering was highest for the boredom mood induction). Reports of sleepiness (a proxy for arousal level) were highest for the boring induction. While restlessness was not different for the boring and interesting inductions when they were performed first, restlessness was significantly higher for the boredom induction when it was experienced last. We discuss these results within the context of the debate regarding boredom and arousal.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.concog.2018.03.014DOI Listing
May 2018

On the Clock: Evidence for the Rapid and Strategic Modulation of Mind Wandering.

Psychol Sci 2018 08 16;29(8):1247-1256. Epub 2018 Mar 16.

5 Department of Psychology, University of Waterloo.

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.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0956797618761039DOI Listing
August 2018

In the eye of the beholder: Evaluative context modulates mind-wandering.

Acta Psychol (Amst) 2018 Apr 16;185:172-179. Epub 2018 Mar 16.

University of Waterloo, Canada.

We present novel evidence that mind-wandering rates during a reading task are influenced by experimental context. In Experiment 1, participants read a series of passages and we measured their frequency of mind-wandering and their subjective evaluations of passage difficulty/interest. Section length was manipulated, such that some passages were presented in short sections and others were presented in long sections. Importantly, participants were randomly assigned to complete either a within-subject version of the experiment (in which they read some short-section passages and some long-section passages) or a between-subjects design (in which they only read either short-section or long-section passages). We found that the within-subject design yielded significant effects of section length on mind-wandering and on subjective passage evaluations, whereas the between-subjects design yielded null effects. This pattern of results was replicated in Experiment 2. These results provide compelling evidence that mind-wandering rates can be influenced by the experimental design. We conclude that mind-wandering is not only driven by the objective demands of the task, but also by subjective evaluations of those task properties, which are influenced by the context in which the task is evaluated (i.e., the "evaluative context").
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.actpsy.2018.02.005DOI Listing
April 2018

Validating a visual version of the metronome response task.

Behav Res Methods 2018 08;50(4):1503-1514

Department of Psychology, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.

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.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.3758/s13428-018-1020-0DOI Listing
August 2018

The awakening of the attention: Evidence for a link between the monitoring of mind wandering and prospective goals.

J Exp Psychol Gen 2018 03 22;147(3):431-443. Epub 2018 Jan 22.

Department of Psychology, Harvard University.

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. (PsycINFO Database Record
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/xge0000385DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5823741PMC
March 2018

On the relation between reading difficulty and mind-wandering: a section-length account.

Psychol Res 2019 Apr 1;83(3):485-497. Epub 2017 Nov 1.

Department of Psychology, University of Waterloo, 200 University Avenue West, Waterloo, ON, N2L 3G1, Canada.

In many situations, increasing task difficulty decreases thoughts that are unrelated to the task (i.e., mind-wandering). In the context of reading, however, recent research demonstrated that increasing passage reading difficulty actually increases mind-wandering rates (e.g., Feng et al. in Psychon Bull Rev 20:586-592, 2013). The primary goal of this research was to elucidate the mechanism that drives this positive relation. Across Experiments 1-3, we found evidence that the effect of Flesch-Kincaid reading difficulty on mind-wandering is partially driven by hard passages having longer sections of text (i.e., more words per screen) than easy passages when passages are presented one sentence at a time. In Experiment 4, we controlled for reading difficulty, and found that section length was positively associated with mind-wandering rates. We conclude by proposing that individuals may tend to disengage their attention from passages with relatively long sections of text because they appear to be more demanding than passages with shorter sections (even though objective task demands are equivalent).
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s00426-017-0936-9DOI Listing
April 2019

Increasing participant motivation reduces rates of intentional and unintentional mind wandering.

Psychol Res 2019 Jul 16;83(5):1057-1069. Epub 2017 Sep 16.

Department of Psychology, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, ON, Canada.

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.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s00426-017-0914-2DOI Listing
July 2019

Wandering minds and wavering goals: Examining the relation between mind wandering and grit in everyday life and the classroom.

Can J Exp Psychol 2017 Jun;71(2):120-132

Department of Psychology, University of Waterloo.

Here we examined the relation between mind wandering and the personality trait of 'grit.' Our hypothesis was that because mind wandering leads to a disruption of momentary goal completion, the tendency to mind wander might be inversely related to the completion of long-term goals that require sustained interest and effort (i.e., grittiness). In Study 1 we used online questionnaires and found that in everyday life, the propensity to mind wander was negatively correlated with individuals' self-reported grittiness. Interestingly, the relation between mind wandering and grit was strongest for unintentional bouts of mind wandering (as compared with intentional mind wandering). We extended these findings in Study 2 by (a) using a more heterogeneous sample of participants, (b) including a measure of conscientiousness, and (c) including another measure of general perseverance. In addition to replicating our findings from Study 1, in Study 2 we found that the grit measure uniquely predicted spontaneous mind wandering over and above a measure of conscientiousness and an alternative measure of general perseverance. Lastly, in Study 3 we extend the relation between mind wandering and grit to the classroom, finding that mind wandering during university lectures was also related to self-reported grittiness. Taken together, we suggest that the propensity to experience brief lapses of attention is associated with the propensity to stick-with and complete long-term goals. We also provide evidence that when predicting mind wandering and inattention, measures of grit are not redundant with existing measure of conscientiousness and general perseverance. (PsycINFO Database Record
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/cep0000116DOI Listing
June 2017

Cognitive aging and the distinction between intentional and unintentional mind wandering.

Psychol Aging 2017 06 4;32(4):315-324. Epub 2017 May 4.

Department of Psychology, Harvard University.

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. (PsycINFO Database Record
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/pag0000172DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5459659PMC
June 2017

Mindfulness and mind wandering: The protective effects of brief meditation in anxious individuals.

Conscious Cogn 2017 05 2;51:157-165. Epub 2017 Apr 2.

Department of Psychology, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.

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.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.concog.2017.03.009DOI Listing
May 2017

What did you have in mind? Examining the content of intentional and unintentional types of mind wandering.

Conscious Cogn 2017 05 31;51:149-156. Epub 2017 Mar 31.

Department of Psychology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA.

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.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.concog.2017.03.007DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5439521PMC
May 2017

Intentionality and meta-awareness of mind wandering: Are they one and the same, or distinct dimensions?

Psychon Bull Rev 2017 12;24(6):1808-1818

Department of Psychology, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.

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.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.3758/s13423-017-1249-0DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5572547PMC
December 2017