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Conscious Cogn. 2011 Dec;20(4):1604-11. doi: 10.1016/j.concog.2011.08.007. Epub 2011 Sep 13.

Back to the future: autobiographical planning and the functionality of mind-wandering.

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Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA 93106-9660, USA.


Given that as much as half of human thought arises in a stimulus independent fashion, it would seem unlikely that such thoughts would play no functional role in our lives. However, evidence linking the mind-wandering state to performance decrement has led to the notion that mind-wandering primarily represents a form of cognitive failure. Based on previous work showing a prospective bias to mind-wandering, the current study explores the hypothesis that one potential function of spontaneous thought is to plan and anticipate personally relevant future goals, a process referred to as autobiographical planning. The results confirm that the content of mind-wandering is predominantly future-focused, demonstrate that individuals with high working memory capacity are more likely to engage in prospective mind-wandering, and show that prospective mind-wandering frequently involves autobiographical planning. Together this evidence suggests that mind-wandering can enable prospective cognitive operations that are likely to be useful to the individual as they navigate through their daily lives.

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