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J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn. 2018 Jan;44(1):85-98. doi: 10.1037/xlm0000444. Epub 2017 Jul 31.

Cognitive and contextual correlates of spontaneous and deliberate mind-wandering.

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Department of Psychology, University of Oregon.


Individuals with greater cognitive abilities generally show reduced rates of mind-wandering when completing relatively demanding tasks (Randall, Oswald, & Beier, 2014). However, it is yet unclear whether elevated rates of mind-wandering among low-ability individuals are manifestations of deliberate, intentional episodes of mind-wandering because of task disengagement or lack of motivation, or to spontaneous, unintentional failures to maintain task-oriented attention. The present study examined this issue by measuring working memory capacity (WMC), mind-wandering during 3 relatively demanding attention control tasks, and contextual variables (e.g., motivation, alertness, perceptions of task unpleasantness). Results indicated that the relationship between WMC and mind-wandering was primarily driven by spontaneous episodes. Lack of alertness also uniquely predicted more frequent spontaneous mind-wandering independently of WMC. Deliberate mind-wandering was primarily driven by a lack of motivation. Thus, cognitive and contextual factors can have distinct relationships with spontaneous and deliberate mind-wandering. (PsycINFO Database Record.

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