Tracking the wandering mind: Memory, mouse movements and decision making styles

AbstractMind wandering involves internally focused attention, and is often conceptualized as the opposite of external attention that is oriented towards the task at hand. Individuals vary according to the amount they mind wander as well as with regards to the pattern of oscillations between mind wandering thoughts and externally directed, focused thought. Assuming that mind wandering is influenced by episodic contents, we explore the proposition that mind wandering frequency is related to the manner in which individuals deal with the contents of episodic memory, as reflected by a maximizing decision making style. Based on previous studies measuring cognitive processes, we assume that mouse trajectories towards a particular response on the screen are continuously updated by time-dependent and temporally-dynamic cognitive processes. As a behavioral methodology, mouse tracking provides potential cues to help predict mind wandering. In our experiment, a total of 274 students completed a decision making questionnaire, episodic and associative memory tests (during which mouse movements were recorded) and a working memory task, during which mind wandering thoughts were assessed. We found certain mouse movement characteristics to be significantly predictive of mind wandering. Also, a maximizing decision making style appeared to be related to a particular type of mind wandering, namely, task-related interference.

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