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Not all mind wandering is created equal: dissociating deliberate from spontaneous mind wandering


In two large samples we show a dissociation between trait-level tendencies to mind-wander spontaneously (unintentionally) and deliberately (intentionally). Participants completed online versions of the Mind Wandering Spontaneous (MW-S) and the Mind Wandering Deliberate (MW-D) self-report scales and the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ). The results revealed that deliberate and spontaneous mind wandering were uniquely associated with some factors of the FFMQ. Notably, while the MW-D and the MW-S were positively associated with each other, the MW-D was uniquely positively associated with the ‘Non-Reactivity to Inner Experience’ factor of the FFMQ, whereas the MW-S was uniquely negatively associated with this factor. We also showed that conflating deliberate and spontaneous mind wandering can result in a misunderstanding of how mind wandering is related to other traits. We recommend that studies assessing individual differences in mind wandering should distinguish between deliberate and spontaneous subtypes of mind wandering to avoid possibly erroneous conclusions.

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This research was supported by a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) discovery grant to Daniel Smilek and an NSERC Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship to Paul Seli.

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Correspondence to Paul Seli.

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Seli, P., Carriere, J.S.A. & Smilek, D. Not all mind wandering is created equal: dissociating deliberate from spontaneous mind wandering. Psychological Research 79, 750–758 (2015).

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  • Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire
  • Awareness Scale
  • Mindful Attention Awareness Scale
  • Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire
  • Detrimental State