Working memory capacity does not always support future-oriented mind-wandering

Jennifer C McVay, Nash Unsworth, Brittany D McMillan, Michael J Kane
Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology 2013, 67 (1): 41-50
To evaluate the claim that mind-wandering demands executive resources, and more specifically that people with better executive control will have the resources to engage in more future-oriented thought than will those with poorer executive control, we reanalyzed thought-report data from 2 independently conducted studies (J. C. McVay & M. J. Kane, 2012, Why does working memory capacity predict variation in reading comprehension? On the influence of mind wandering and executive attention, Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, Vol. 141, pp. 302-320; N. Unsworth & B. D. McMillan, in press, Mind-wandering and reading comprehension: Examining the roles of working memory capacity, interest, motivation, and topic experience, Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition) on working memory capacity (WMC), mind-wandering, and reading comprehension. Both of these individual-differences studies assessed large samples of university subjects' WMC abilities via multiple tasks and probed their immediate thought content while reading; in reporting any task-unrelated thoughts (TUTs), subjects indicated whether those thoughts were about the future or the past, if applicable. In contrast to previously published findings indicating that higher WMC subjects mind-wandered about the future more than did lower WMC subjects (B. Baird, J. Smallwood, & J. W. Schooler, 2011, Back to the future: Autobiographical planning and the functionality of mind-wandering, Consciousness and Cognition, Vol. 20, pp. 1604-1611), we found only weak to modest negative correlations between WMC and future-oriented TUTs. If anything, our findings suggest that higher WMC subjects' TUTs were somewhat less often future-oriented than were lower WMC subjects'. Either WMC is not truly associated with mind-wandering about the future, or we have identified some important boundary conditions around that association.


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