A new approach to differentiate states of mind wandering: Effects of working memory capacity

Matthew J. Voss, Meera Zukosky, Ranxiao Frances Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Although widely studied, the process of how mind wandering occurs and is subsequently sustained still remains unclear. Moreover, the traditional concept of mind wandering tendency/frequency based on the self- or probe-caught methods alone is incoherent and problematic. We developed a new approach to characterize the mind wandering process by combining the self-caught and probe-caught methods to estimate the time of focus and time of mind wandering separately, and examined their relationship to working memory capacity. Participants performed an OSPAN task and subsequently a basic Mindfulness Meditation Task (focus on breath). During the meditation task, participants indicated when they became aware that they were mind wandering (self-caught method), or were asked if they were mind wandering when probed (probe-caught method). Results showed that time of focus but not time of mind wandering increased with greater working memory capacity. This suggests that individuals with higher working memory capacity were able to focus on the current task longer, but had little effect on the ability to monitor and terminate mind wandering once it occurred. The theoretical and methodological implications of this new approach are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)202-212
Number of pages11
StatePublished - Oct 2018


  • Meditation
  • Memory and attention
  • Mind wandering
  • Working memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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