On the theoretical importance of distinguishing between intentional and unintentional types of Mind Wandering
MetadataShow full item record
When introduced to mainstream psychological research nearly a decade ago, mind wandering was defined as unintentional, internally-focused thought. The requirement of an absence of intention was critical in terms of the conceptualization of mind wandering because, for the better half of the past century, considerable research has examined intentional, internally-focused thought. Thus, without the stipulation of an absence of intention, mind wandering would simply refer to a construct that has long been studied by researchers, which would therefore negate the utility of introducing the neologism “mind wandering” to the scientific community. Notwithstanding the critical importance of conceptualizing mind wandering as reflecting unintentional, internally-focused thoughts, in most studies on the topic, the requisite steps have not been taken to ensure that the reported mind wandering did in fact occur without intention. The foregoing is particularly problematic as it suggests that, in many studies, absent-minded mind wandering might have been confounded with intentionally-generated thought. In the present series of studies, I examined this possibility at both the trait and state levels, and found that, (1) in studies of mind wandering, people do in fact experience and report intentional internally-focused thought as reflecting “mind wandering,” and (2) intentional and unintentional internally-focused thoughts are differentially related to certain critical measures of interest, which indicates that they are dissociable cognitive experiences. These results suggest a serious problem with the current state of the literature on mind wandering: Namely, that mind wandering, as initially conceptualized and introduced to psychological research as reflecting unintentional internally-focused thought, has likely been conflated with a very different mode of thinking (i.e., deliberately engaged thought).