Does your mind wander?

I remember when I used to work at an office job and had to sit at a desk for nine hours a day and do paperwork, handle phone calls, manage schedules, etc. And while it may seem like an interesting gig, I realized that more often than not, my mind would start to wander (especially right after lunch time!) and I would begin to lose focus. The days would feel like they would drag on and it was difficult to muscle through a long day at the office. This phenomenon happens to everyone at some point, depending on the activity. It would happen to me at the office, at the gym when I’m running on a treadmill, when I’m walking my dog, or engaging in something that didn’t require a lot of mental focus and attention.

In a study titled “Mind-Wandering, Cognition, and Performance: A Theory-Driven Meta-Analysis of Attention Regulation” by Jason G. Randall, Frederick L. Oswald, and Margaret E. Beier, published on August 4, 2014 by the American Psychology Association,  various hypothesis on mind-wandering based on the task, task-related or task-unrelated thought, cognitive resources, etc were presented. The study revealed that their main hypothesis (mind-wandering has real-world implications and affects the efficiency of those that mind-wander) holds true. According to Randall, Oswald, and Beier, “Across all studies, and without a consideration of the task environment, mind-wandering accounted for roughly 6% of the variance in task performance. We believe this statistic holds practical significance beyond its statistical significance due to the potential for inefficiency, error, and even danger to be introduced as a failure to maintain one’s attention on task performance” (Randall, Oswald, and Beier 14). This shows that mind-wandering can have consequences that don’t just affect whether a task at the office or in the classroom is being completed. People with occupations that are more hazardous are at higher risk if they experience moments when their mind wanders.

The most interesting point that this case study revealed was that people aren’t able to change their capacity for attention – your ability to pay attention remains pretty constant. However, (according to the study) you ARE able to manipulate the task to maintain your focus and decrease the risk for mind-wandering (Randall, Oswald, and Beier 17). Being someone that loses focus easily and can get distracted with very little effort, I have experience with various apps that are available to download for your laptop or your cell phone that eliminates distractions and forces you to divert your attention back to the thing that you were supposed to be focused on to begin with!

Randall, J. G., Oswald, F. L., & Beier, M. E. (2014). Mind-Wandering, Cognition, and Performance: A Theory-Driven Meta-Analysis of Attention Regulation. American Psychological Assocation, 1-22. Retrieved March 16, 2017, from https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Jason_Randall2/publication/264496174_Mind-Wandering_Cognition_and_Performance_A_Theory-Driven_Meta-Analysis_of_Attention_Regulation/links/53e150820cf2235f3529be12.pdf.

Any images used in this post or on this blog have been downloaded from Unsplash and have been licensed under Creative Commons Zero.

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2 thoughts on “Does your mind wander?

  1. This article was interesting. I never thought of mind wandering as being potentially dangerous. My mind tends to wander a lot at school and by the time I realize I have already missed something important. It is crazy how a person cannot change their capacity for attention – you’d think that that would be something that could be improved over time. I guess that would explain ADHD, however.

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  2. Christina,

    This blog was supper interesting! Attention and focus are significant elements that play a role when it comes to cognition and the brain. People who have a hard time keeping their mind from drifting can struggle in various parts of their life. School and work are two key areas. Similarity to what you mentioned, this can get dangerous depending on a persons occupation or daily life. Driving is a key task that can be dangerous for people with this problem. If someone loses focus for just a second, it can cost a life. After reading this, I’m interested in doing research on certain techniques that help people who have a hard time paying attention. Also, I didn’t know that a persons ability to focus remains constant over time. Since my blog is mainly on mental disorders, this made me think of a worst case scenario, ADHD. It made me wonder if that means ADHD isn’t curable. According to http://braincoretherapy.com/can-adhd-cured/, “The medications currently on the market to treat ADHD cannot cure the disease, per se. They can only treat the symptoms. I am interested in doing more research on attention and cognitive psychology.

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