The ugly duckling. Half a century of research on mind-wandering

Marek Kowalczyk


In the beginning of the 1960's psychologists started research on the phenomenon of mind-wandering – the occurrence of thoughts unrelated to the demands of the present task and to the current environment of a person. For the first four decades or so, this line of investigation waxed and waned somewhat on the outskirts of mainstream experimental psychology. It was pursued by a handful of researchers only and resulted in scarce publications, which were virtually ignored in the broader (and thriving at that time) field of study on cognition. However, in the last decade or so we have been witnessing a pronounced intensification of research on mind-wandering, considerable advances in this field, and also a noticeable increase of its prominence in behavioural and brain sciences. The article aims at presenting this transition. Mind-wandering could have been regarded as a subject neither encouraging, nor particularly deserving of attention from researchers: hardly amenable to experimental scrutiny, apparently not very important in people’s life, and unrelated to major theoretical problems in the study of cognitive processes. Nowadays, this view has been changing. Stable generalizations emerge that concern task-, state- and trait-related conditions conducive to mind-wandering. Researchers successfully link mind-wandering to both behavioural or performance indices and to patterns of brain activity. Mind-wandering proves to be a common phenomenon with important correlates or consequences in our functioning. Studies on this subject turn out to be relevant to some important lines of investigation and theory development in contemporary psychology and neuroscience.


mind-wandering; advances in psychology; behavioural and neurobiological indices of mental states

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