Task-unrelated-thought frequency as a function of age: a laboratory study

Psychol Aging. 1989 Jun;4(2):136-143. doi: 10.1037/0882-7974.4.2.136.


Using retrospective reports, Giambra (1977-1978, 1979-1980) found an inverse relation between age and daydreaming/mind wandering. To deal with an alternate explanation of these results based on age-dependent memorial deficiencies and attitudes toward daydreaming/mind wandering and to provide independent convergent validity, five experiments were carried out. Task-unrelated thoughts (TUTs) were taken as the operational definition of daydreams/mind wanderings and their frequency recorded in vigilance tasks. All five experiments found an inverse relation between age (17-92 years, N = 471) and TUTs, confirming the reliability and validity of the earlier studies. The age-dependent reduction in TUTs was considered as evidence of reduced nonconscious information processing with increased age. The results of this study were incompatible with a recent theory that predicts for older individuals an increased input of irrelevant thoughts into working memory due to the older individual's reduced inhibitory control.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Attention*
  • Fantasy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual
  • Psychomotor Performance
  • Thinking*