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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Are those who [mind]wander lost? : examining the mechanism of mind wandering through its relationship with sleep and cognitive performance Pricop, Diana F.


Whether we like it or not, we spend a large portion of our day thinking introspectively instead of paying attention to what is around us. This is known as mind wandering, and we do it often, are unaware we are doing so, and are impaired cognitively and perceptually during the process. However, it is also true that we sleep often, are unaware we are doing so, and are impaired cognitively and perceptually during the process. Yet we would not conclude that, like mind wandering, sleep is detrimental. There is a newly growing literature providing evidence for potential benefits of mind wandering, as well as suggesting various similarities between mind wandering and sleep. The present study aimed to add to this literature by examining whether the similarity between mind wandering and sleep extends to effects on dissociated aspects of cognitive functioning. Based on two studies showing the pattern of relationship between sleep and mind wandering, and the effect of sleep deprivation on cognitive functioning, the present study examined whether, studied together, sleep and mind wandering had comparable effects on these cognitive performance measures. It was found that sleepiness was a significant predictor of both mind wandering and cognitive performance, replicating the findings of the two previously mentioned studies using a combination of their measures. However, mind wandering, unlike sleep, was not a significant predictor of cognitive functioning. Alternatively, the results suggested that cognitive performance, either executive or non-executive, was not affected by mind wandering, even though both cognitive performance and mind wandering were affected by sleep. This finding suggests that mind wandering does not affect performance on a global level the way it does on an acute level. However, limitations of the study which may potentially undermine this interpretation of the results, as well as consequent future directions, are also discussed.

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