Wandering minds and wavering goals: Examining the relation between mind wandering and grit in everyday life and the classroom

Can J Exp Psychol. 2017 Jun;71(2):120-132. doi: 10.1037/cep0000116.


Here we examined the relation between mind wandering and the personality trait of 'grit.' Our hypothesis was that because mind wandering leads to a disruption of momentary goal completion, the tendency to mind wander might be inversely related to the completion of long-term goals that require sustained interest and effort (i.e., grittiness). In Study 1 we used online questionnaires and found that in everyday life, the propensity to mind wander was negatively correlated with individuals' self-reported grittiness. Interestingly, the relation between mind wandering and grit was strongest for unintentional bouts of mind wandering (as compared with intentional mind wandering). We extended these findings in Study 2 by (a) using a more heterogeneous sample of participants, (b) including a measure of conscientiousness, and (c) including another measure of general perseverance. In addition to replicating our findings from Study 1, in Study 2 we found that the grit measure uniquely predicted spontaneous mind wandering over and above a measure of conscientiousness and an alternative measure of general perseverance. Lastly, in Study 3 we extend the relation between mind wandering and grit to the classroom, finding that mind wandering during university lectures was also related to self-reported grittiness. Taken together, we suggest that the propensity to experience brief lapses of attention is associated with the propensity to stick-with and complete long-term goals. We also provide evidence that when predicting mind wandering and inattention, measures of grit are not redundant with existing measure of conscientiousness and general perseverance. (PsycINFO Database Record

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living
  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Female
  • Goals*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Personality / physiology*
  • Schools
  • Young Adult