How self-generated thought shapes mood--the relation between mind-wandering and mood depends on the socio-temporal content of thoughts

PLoS One. 2013 Oct 23;8(10):e77554. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0077554. eCollection 2013.


Recent work has highlighted that the generation of thoughts unrelated to the current environment may be both a cause and a consequence of unhappiness. The current study used lag analysis to examine whether the relationship between self-generated thought and negative affect depends on the content of the thoughts themselves. We found that the emotional content could strongly predict subsequent mood (e.g. negative thoughts were associated with subsequent negative mood). However, this direct relationship was modulated by the socio-temporal content of the thoughts: thoughts that were past- and other-related were associated with subsequent negative mood, even if current thought content was positive. By contrast, future- and self-related thoughts preceded improvements of mood, even when current thought content was negative. These results highlight the important link between self-generated thought and mood and suggest that the socio-temporal content plays an important role in determining whether an individual's future affective state will be happy or sad.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Affect / physiology*
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Choice Behavior / physiology
  • Female
  • Germany
  • Happiness*
  • Humans
  • Linear Models
  • Male
  • Principal Component Analysis
  • Thinking / physiology*
  • Time Factors

Grants and funding

The study was partly supported by Grant R305A110277 from the US Office of Education awarded to J.W. Schooler and J. Smallwood. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. No additional external funding was received for this study.