Aging and mind wandering during text comprehension

Psychol Aging. 2012 Dec;27(4):951-958. doi: 10.1037/a0028831. Epub 2012 Jun 11.


Mind wandering occurs when a person's stream of thought moves from the primary task to task-unrelated matters. Some theories of mind wandering suggest that it is caused by decreased attentional control associated with lower working memory (WM) capacity. Others suggest that it is caused by attention being directed toward internally generated thoughts and that it is associated with higher WM capacity. These ideas were assessed testing older adults because they have been argued to have reduced attentional control and lower WM capacity. The first account predicts that mind wandering should increase in older adults, while the second account predicts the opposite. Two experiments show that older adults exhibited a lower rate of mind wandering than younger adults. However, when using text interest as a covariate, the age difference in mind wandering disappeared. These results are further addressed in light of participants' current concerns and preserved situation model processing in cognitive aging.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Attention*
  • Comprehension*
  • Executive Function
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term
  • Middle Aged
  • Reading*
  • Young Adult