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Given that the ability to attend to a task without distraction underlies performance in a wide variety of contexts, training one’s ability to stay on task should result in a similarly broad enhancement of performance. In a randomized controlled investigation, we examined whether a 2-week mindfulness-training course would decrease mind wandering and improve cognitive performance. Mindfulness training improved both GRE reading-comprehension scores and working memory capacity while simultaneously reducing the occurrence of distracting thoughts during completion of the GRE and the measure of working memory. Improvements in performance following mindfulness training were mediated by reduced mind wandering among participants who were prone to distraction at pretesting. Our results suggest that cultivating mindfulness is an effective and efficient technique for improving cognitive function, with widereaching consequences.

This article reviews the hypothesis that mind wandering can be integrated into executive models of attention. Evidence suggests that mind wandering shares many similarities with traditional notions of executive control. When mind wandering occurs, the executive components of attention appear to shift away from the primary task, leading to failures in task performance and superficial representations of the external environment. One challenge for incorporating mind wandering into standard executive models is that it often occurs in the absence of explicit intention—a hallmark of controlled processing. However, mind wandering, like other goal-related processes, can be engaged without explicit awareness; thus, mind wandering can be seen as a goal-driven process, albeit one that is not directed toward the primary task.

This article reviews the hypothesis that mind wandering can be integrated into executive models of attention. Evidence suggests that mind wandering shares many similarities with traditional notions of executive control. When mind wandering occurs, the executive components of attention appear to shift away from the primary task, leading to failures in task performance and superficial representations of the external environment. One challenge for incorporating mind wandering into standard executive models is that it often occurs in the absence of explicit intention—a hallmark of controlled processing. However, mind wandering, like other goal-related processes, can be engaged without explicit awareness; thus, mind wandering can be seen as a goal-driven process, albeit one that is not directed toward the primary task.

Conscious experience is fluid; it rarely remains on one topic for an extended period without deviation. Its dynamic nature is illustrated by the experience of mind wandering, in which attention switches from a current task to unrelated thoughts and feelings. Studies exploring the phenomenology of mind wandering highlight the importance of its content and relation to meta-cognition in determining its functional outcomes. Examination of the information-processing demands of the mind-wandering state suggests that it involves perceptual decoupling to escape the constraints of the moment, its content arises from episodic and affective processes, and its regulation relies on executive control. Mind wandering also involves a complex balance of costs and benefits: Its association with various kinds of error underlines its cost, whereas its relationship to creativity and future planning suggest its potential value. Although essential to the stream of consciousness, various strategies may minimize the downsides of mind wandering while maintaining its productive aspects.