Everyday attention and lecture retention: the effects of time, fidgeting, and mind wandering

Front Psychol. 2013 Sep 18;4:619. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00619. eCollection 2013.


We have all had our thoughts wander from the immediate task at hand. The emerging embodied cognition literature emphasizes the role that the body plays in human thought, and raises the possibility that changes in attentional focus may be associated with changes in body behavior. Recent research has found that when individuals view a lecture, mind wandering increases as a function of time. In the present study we asked whether this decline in attention during lecture viewing was associated with fidgeting. Participants were filmed while they watched a 40-min lecture video, and at regular 5-min intervals provided ratings of their attentiveness. Following the lecture, participant's memory for the material was assessed. Fidgeting behavior was coded from video recordings of each session. Results indicated that attention to, and retention of, lecture material declined as a function of time on task. Critically, and as predicted, fidgeting also increased with time on task. We also found that the relation between fidgeting and retention was significant even when the role of attention was factored into the equation, suggesting that fidgeting makes a unique contribution to retention of lecture material over and above that contributed by an individual's attention. We propose a novel non-attentional stress-based account of fidgeting and how this impacts retention for lecture material over and above changes in levels in mind wandering vis-a-vis changes in attention.

Keywords: attention; cognitive ethology; ecological validity; fidgeting; lecture; memory; mind wandering; time on task.