Thursday, March 15, 2012
Your Mind Will Wander as You Read This Article
Odds are, you’re not going to make it all the way through this article without thinking about something else.
In fact, studies have found that our minds are wandering half the time, drifting off to thoughts unrelated to what we’re doing – did I remember to turn off the light? What should I have for dinner?
A new study investigating the mental processes underlying a wandering mind reports a role for working memory, a sort of a mental workspace that allows you to juggle multiple thoughts simultaneously.
Imagine you see your neighbor upon arriving home one day and schedule a lunch date. On your way to add it to your calendar, you stop to turn off the drippy faucet, feed the cat, and add milk to your grocery list. The capacity that allows you to retain the lunch information through those unrelated tasks is working memory.
The new study, published online March 14 in the journal Psychological Science by Daniel Levinson and Richard Davidson at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and Jonathan Smallwood at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Science, reports that a person’s working memory capacity relates to the tendency of their mind to wander during a routine assignment. Lead author Levinson is a graduate student with Davidson, a professor of psychology and psychiatry, in the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the UW–Madison Waisman Center.