Working memory capacity does not always support future-oriented mind wandering.

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Michael J. Kane, Professor (Creator)
Jennifer C. McVay (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
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Abstract: To evaluate the claim that mind-wandering demands executive resources, and more specifically that people with better executive control will have the resources to engage in more future-oriented thought than will those with poorer executive control, we reanalyzed thought-report data from 2 independently conducted studies (J. C. McVay & M. J. Kane, 2012, Why does working memory capacity predict variation in reading comprehension? On the influence of mind wandering and executive attention, Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, Vol. 141, pp. 302–320; N. Unsworth & B. D. McMillan, in press, Mind-wandering and reading comprehension: Examining the roles of working memory capacity, interest, motivation, and topic experience, Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition) on working memory capacity (WMC), mind-wandering, and reading comprehension. Both of these individual-differences studies assessed large samples of university subjects' WMC abilities via multiple tasks and probed their immediate thought content while reading; in reporting any task-unrelated thoughts (TUTs), subjects indicated whether those thoughts were about the future or the past, if applicable. In contrast to previously published findings indicating that higher WMC subjects mind-wandered about the future more than did lower WMC subjects (B. Baird, J. Smallwood, & J. W. Schooler, 2011, Back to the future: Autobiographical planning and the functionality of mind-wandering, Consciousness and Cognition, Vol. 20, pp. 1604–1611), we found only weak to modest negative correlations between WMC and future-oriented TUTs. If anything, our findings suggest that higher WMC subjects' TUTs were somewhat less often future-oriented than were lower WMC subjects'. Either WMC is not truly associated with mind-wandering about the future, or we have identified some important boundary conditions around that association.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2013
executive control, individual differences, mind-wandering, working memory capacity, future, psychology

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