Age-related differences in mind-wandering in daily life

Psychol Aging. 2018 Jun;33(4):643-653. doi: 10.1037/pag0000260.


In recent years, several laboratory studies have indicated that healthy older adults exhibit a reduction in mind-wandering frequency compared with young adults. However, it is unclear if these findings extend to daily life settings. In the current study, using experience sampling over the course of a week in the daily life of 31 young and 20 older adults, we assessed age-related differences in: (a) mind-wandering frequency, (b) the relationship between affect and mind-wandering frequency, and (c) content of mind wandering. Older adults mind wandered less than young adults in daily life. Across age groups, negative affect was positively associated with mind-wandering occurrence. Finally, older adults reported that their thoughts were more pleasant, interesting, and clear compared with young adults, who had thoughts that were more dreamlike, novel, strange, and racing. Our results provide the first demonstration using thought sampling that older adults exhibit a reduction in mind-wandering frequency in daily life. Implications for current theories of age-related reductions in mind-wandering frequency are discussed. (PsycINFO Database Record

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living / psychology*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Emotions
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Young Adult