UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Measurement of mind wandering in natural and unnatural settings Varao-Sousa, Patricia


Mind wandering (MW) is defined as a lapse of attention where one’s thoughts are focused inward, thus drawing attention away from the current task. MW has been reported to occur regularly in tasks ranging from simple visual search-paradigms to real-time driving. MW research has been measured most often within lab settings, however an understanding of how MW occurs in more naturalistic everyday tasks is highly valuable as well. This dissertation was motivated by research on the naturalness of experimental design (Tunnell, 1977) and the practice of cognitive ethology, which aims to understand cognition and behaviour under real-world settings (Kingstone, Smilek, & Eastwood, 2008; Kingstone, Smilek, Ristic, Kelland Friesen, & Eastwood, 2003). The goal was to investigate whether the methods, measurements, and settings used to study mind wandering reflect the natural experience as it occurs inside and outside of the lab. In Experiments 1-5, I examine whether MW report style (self-caught versus probe-caught) influences reports made in terms of frequency or content characteristics. Experiments 6-8 extended this investigation to more naturalistic settings. Experiments 9 and 10 consider the role of distraction in MW, within lab and uncontrolled settings. Results from this body of work reveals that MW is relatively stable regardless of whether it is revealed through probe-caught or self-caught methodologies, that peer presence but not lecture features influence MW rates, and that other forms of inattention (i.e., distraction) do not necessarily occur at the same rate as MW. The findings of this thesis open new avenues and methods for the investigation of MW in controlled and natural settings.

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