06

Dec

You’re working on a publication for work, and you find yourself suddenly interested in what you’ll be eating for breakfast tomorrow. Don’t worry, you’re not alone in your mind’s sudden urge to wander.

“The average person spends up to one third of their life engaging in thoughts that are not related to the task at hand”, but does mind wandering help or hinder us?

According to a recent study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, mind wandering can actually alter one’s perception of their reality, making them more prone to make incorrect estimations when evaluating a task or set of data.

Mind wandering seems to draw “attention away from sensory input toward task-unrelated mental representations.” To test the affects of mind wandering, an experiment was performed on university students who had to watch a video on statistics and evaluate their thoughts (if they were wandering but still relevant to the material, wandering entirely into personal life, or focused).

It was found that those who had wandering thoughts without prior knowledge of the class’ content did poorly on their exam related to the video. On the other hand, a group of students assigned to a note-taking task before the video (giving them prior knowledge of the content) did better on the test, even when their thoughts wandered, but were still lecture related.

All in all, when an individual has prior knowledge of a situation, they may be more likely to ponder more “bigger picture” ideas related to the topic, which actually helps learning, rather than hinders it – but, mind wandering in general still alters perception, and can actually cause us to be less accurate and less detail oriented with certain tasks.