The lights are on but no one’s home: Meta-awareness and the decoupling of attention when the mind wanders

Abstract

In a recent review, we suggested that an important aspect of mind-wandering is whether participants are aware that they are off task (Smallwood & Schooler, 2006). We tested this hypothesis by examining the informationprocessing correlates of mind wandering with and without awareness in a task requiring participants to encode words and detect targets with either a high or a low probability. Target detection was measured via response inhibition. Mind wandering in the absence of awareness was associated with a failure to supervise task performance, as indicated by short RTs, and was predictive of failures in response inhibition. Under conditions of low target probability, mind wandering was associated with a relative absence of the influence of recollection at retrieval. The results are consistent with the notion that mind wandering involves a state of decoupled attention and emphasizes the importance of meta-awareness of off-task episodes in determining the consequences of these mental states.

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Correspondence to Jonathan Smallwood.

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The work was supported by a U.S. Office of Education Grant to J.W.S. and Eric Reichle.

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Smallwood, J., McSpadden, M. & Schooler, J.W. The lights are on but no one’s home: Meta-awareness and the decoupling of attention when the mind wanders. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review 14, 527–533 (2007). https://doi.org/10.3758/BF03194102

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Keywords

  • Response Time
  • Response Inhibition
  • Verbal Report
  • Target Probability
  • Short Response Time