Behavior Research Methods

, Volume 51, Issue 1, pp 235–242 | Cite as

Are mind wandering rates an artifact of the probe-caught method? Using self-caught mind wandering in the classroom to test, and reject, this possibility

  • Trish L. Varao-SousaEmail author
  • Alan Kingstone


Mind wandering (MW) reports often rely on individuals responding to specific external thought probes. Researchers have used this probe-caught method almost exclusively, due to its reliability across a wide range of testing situations. However, it remains an open question whether the probe-caught MW rates in more complex settings converge with those for simpler tasks, because of the rather artificial and controlled nature of the probe-caught methodology itself, which is shared across the different settings. To address this issue, we measured MW in a real-world lecture, during which students indicated whether they were mind wandering by simply catching themselves (as one would normally do in real life) or by catching themselves and responding to thought probes. Across three separate lectures, self-caught MW reports were stable and unaffected by the inclusion of MW probes. That the probe rates were similar to those found in prior classroom research and did not affect the self-caught MW rates strongly suggests that the past consistency of probe-caught MW rates across a range of different settings is not an artifact of the thought-probe method. Our study also indicates that the self-caught MW methodology is a reliable way to acquire MW data. The extension of measurement techniques to include students’ self-caught reports provides valuable information about how to successfully and naturalistically monitor MW in lecture settings, outside the laboratory.


Mind wandering Self-report Lectures Attention 


Author note

The authors thank Avarna Fernandes, Faith Jabs, and Sonia Milani for help with the data collection and coding, and Janel Fergusson for the use of her classroom sessions. This research was supported by a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) grant to A.K., and by an NSERC Canadian Graduate Scholarship to T.L.V.-S.


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Copyright information

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada

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