The influence of thought probes on performance: Does the mind wander more if you ask it?

Elizabeth A Wiemers, Thomas S Redick
Psychonomic Bulletin & Review 2018 September 17
Mind-wandering has emerged in the past decade as a popular topic in many areas of psychological research. Numerous studies have demonstrated the potential costs and benefits of mind-wandering in relation to ongoing task performance, along with more recent work examining the nature of different types of mind-wandering. A common method of measuring mind-wandering in laboratory research is to embed self-report thought probes at random intervals within an ongoing task. However, a critical issue to determine is whether or not the presence of the thought probes fundamentally alters how an individual typically performs on the task. In the current study, N = 149 participants completed a sustained attention to response task (SART) with and without the presence of mind-wandering thought probes. In addition, participants completed operation and symmetry span measures of working memory capacity, as several studies have examined the relationship between individual differences in working memory capacity and mind-wandering using thought probes on the SART. The results indicate that SART performance does not differ whether thought probes are included or not. Individuals higher in working memory capacity produced better SART performance in the conditions with and without thought probes. In addition, individuals in working memory capacity were negatively correlated with mind-wandering frequency. The results indicate that thought probe measurement is a non-reactive method to measure mind-wandering in attention and inhibition tasks.


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