Dimensions of Experience: Exploring the Heterogeneity of the Wandering Mind

Psychol Sci. 2018 Jan;29(1):56-71. doi: 10.1177/0956797617728727. Epub 2017 Nov 13.


The tendency for the mind to wander to concerns other than the task at hand is a fundamental feature of human cognition, yet the consequences of variations in its experiential content for psychological functioning are not well understood. Here, we adopted multivariate pattern analysis to simultaneously decompose experience-sampling data and neural functional-connectivity data, which revealed dimensions that simultaneously describe individual variation in self-reported experience and default-mode-network connectivity. We identified dimensions corresponding to traits of positive-habitual thoughts and spontaneous task-unrelated thoughts. These dimensions were uniquely related to aspects of cognition, such as executive control and the ability to generate information in a creative fashion, and independently distinguished well-being measures. These data provide the most convincing evidence to date for an ontological view of the mind-wandering state as encompassing a broad range of different experiences and show that this heterogeneity underlies mind wandering's complex relationship to psychological functioning.

Keywords: content regulation; default mode network; mind wandering; ontology of spontaneous thought; open materials.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Behavior Rating Scale
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Executive Function / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Rest / physiology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Thinking / physiology*
  • Young Adult