Working memory capacity and mind-wandering during low-demand cognitive tasks

Matthew K Robison, Nash Unsworth
Consciousness and Cognition 2017, 52: 47-54
Individual differences in working memory capacity (WMC) typically predict reduced rates of mind-wandering during laboratory tasks (Randall, Oswald, & Beier, 2014). However, some studies have shown a positive relationship between WMC and mind-wandering during particularly low-demand tasks (Levinson, Smallwood, & Davidson, 2012; Rummel & Boywitt, 2014; Zavagnin, Borella, & De Beni, 2014). More specifically, Baird, Smallwood, and Schooler (2011) found that when individuals with greater WMC do mind-wander, they tend entertain more future-oriented thoughts. This piece of evidence is frequently used to support the context-regulation hypothesis, which states that using spare capacity to think productively (e.g. plan) during relatively simple tasks is indicative of a cognitive system that is functioning in an adaptive manner (Smallwood & Andrews-Hanna, 2013). The present investigation failed to replicate the finding that WMC is positively related to future-oriented off-task thought, which has implications for several theoretical viewpoints.


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