The Control Failures × Concerns theory perspective proposes that mind-wandering occurs, in part, because of failures to inhibit distracting thoughts from entering consciousness (McVay & Kane, 2012). Despite older adults (OAs) exhibiting poorer inhibition, they report less mind-wandering than do young adults (YAs). Proposed explanations include (a) that OAs' thought reports are less valid due to an unawareness of, or reluctance to report, task-unrelated thoughts (TUTs) and (b) that dispositional factors protect OAs from mind-wandering. The primary goal of the current study was to test the validity of thought reports via eye-tracking. A secondary goal was to examine whether OAs' greater mindfulness (Splevins, Smith, & Simpson, 2009) or more positive mood (Carstensen, Isaacowitz, & Charles, 1999) protects them from TUTs. We found that eye movement patterns predicted OAs' TUT reports and YAs' task-related interference (TRI, or thoughts about one's performance) reports. Additionally, poor comprehension was associated with more TUTs in both age groups and more TRI in YAs. These results support the validity of OAs' thought reports. Concerning the second aim of the study, OAs' greater tendency to observe their surroundings (a facet of mindfulness) was related to increased TRI, and OAs' more positive mood and greater motivation partially mediated age differences in TUTs. OAs' reduced TUT reports appear to be genuine and potentially related to dispositional factors.
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