Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

, Volume 16, Issue 5, pp 857–863 | Cite as

Tracking the train of thought from the laboratory into everyday life: An experience-sampling study of mind wandering across controlled and ecological contexts

  • Jennifer C. McVay
  • Michael J. Kane
  • Thomas R. Kwapil
Brief Reports


In an experience-sampling study that bridged laboratory, ecological, and individual-differences approaches to mind-wandering research, 72 subjects completed an executive-control task with periodic thought probes (reported by McVay & Kane, 2009) and then carried PDAs for a week that signaled them eight times daily to report immediately whether their thoughts were off task. Subjects who reported more mind wandering during the laboratory task endorsed more mind-wandering experiences during everyday life (and were more likely to report worries as off-task thought content). We also conceptually replicated laboratory findings that mind wandering predicts task performance: Subjects rated their daily-life performance to be impaired when they reported off-task thoughts, with greatest impairment when subjects’ mind wandering lacked metaconsciousness. The propensity to mind wander appears to be a stable cognitive characteristic and seems to predict performance difficulties in daily life, just as it does in the laboratory


Work Memory Capacity Contextual Predictor Response Time Variability Attentional Lapse Mind Wandering 


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Copyright information

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jennifer C. McVay
    • 1
  • Michael J. Kane
    • 1
  • Thomas R. Kwapil
    • 1
  1. 1.Psychology DepartmentUniversity of North CarolinaGreensboro

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