Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience

, Volume 19, Issue 5, pp 1184–1191 | Cite as

The wandering mind oscillates: EEG alpha power is enhanced during moments of mind-wandering

  • Rebecca J. ComptonEmail author
  • Dylan Gearinger
  • Hannah Wild


What is your brain doing while your mind is wandering? This study used a within-subjects experience-sampling design to test whether episodes of mind-wandering during a demanding cognitive task are associated with increases in EEG alpha power. Alpha refers to cyclic oscillations in EEG activity at 8–12 Hz, and has been previously correlated with internally rather than externally directed cognition. Participants completed a speeded performance task with more than 800 trials while EEG was recorded. Intermittent experience-sampling probes asked participants to indicate whether their mind was wandering or on-task. Participants reported mind-wandering in response to approximately half of the probes. EEG alpha power was significantly higher preceding probes to which participants reported mind-wandering, compared with probes to which participants reported being on task. These findings imply that dynamic changes in alpha power may prove a valuable tool in studying momentary fluctuations in mind-wandering.


Mind-wandering EEG Alpha oscillations Experience sampling 



Paige Carson, Elizabeth Heaton, Stephanie Histon, Taylor Levine, and Danielle Rette assisted with data collection. This study was supported by NSF RUI Grant No. 1632584.

Open practices statement

The data from this study are available from the first author upon request. The study was not preregistered.


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Copyright information

© The Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rebecca J. Compton
    • 1
    Email author
  • Dylan Gearinger
    • 1
  • Hannah Wild
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyHaverford CollegeHaverfordUSA

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