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A sudden lapse of imagination? Processing overlap between mind wandering and creative thought Jonathan Smallwood, Research Scientist, META Lab University.

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Presentation on theme: "A sudden lapse of imagination? Processing overlap between mind wandering and creative thought Jonathan Smallwood, Research Scientist, META Lab University."— Presentation transcript:

1 A sudden lapse of imagination? Processing overlap between mind wandering and creative thought Jonathan Smallwood, Research Scientist, META Lab University of California, Santa Barbara

2 Collaborators University of Aberdeen Neil Macrae Lynden Miles Dave Turk Louise Phillips University of British Columbia Kalina Christoff Todd Handy University of California, Santa Barbara Jonathan Schooler University of Stirling Rory O’Connor University of Strathclyde Marc Obonsawain

3 Attention is “the sudden taking possession of the mind, in clear and vivid form of one of what seems several simultaneously possible objects or trains of thought”

4 Core Thesis Both mind wandering and insight are: Momentary phenomena – occur out of the blue – anecdotally are often only indirectly related to the task in hand Are personally relevant – current concerns

5 Overview 1.Describe a simple model to understand lapses in attention 2.Describe the methodologies employed to study mind wandering 3.Consider theoretical similarities between mind wandering and creative thought 4. Study comparing the relation between subjective reports of mind wandering and creative thought

6 The Restless Mind Mind wandering – a failure to constrain attention to the task in hand. Often (but not always) accompanied by a state of introspection Task unrelated thought (TUT) Stimulus Independent Thought (SIT) Smallwood & Schooler (2006). Psych Bulletin

7 Internal Representations Task Relevant Information Working Memory Mind wandering is a disruption in the flow of task relevant information into working memory Attention becomes decoupled from the task Smallwood et al. (2007). Psych Bull & Review Mental states as information flow

8 Measuring the wandering mind Measures – Subjective –Experience sampling –Objective –Lapses in the performance of an appropriate task Relate to an Introspective State? Verifiable at the 3 rd person perspective? Experience Sampling YesDepends Behavioral Lapse DependsYes

9 Thought Probe Just prior to being asked were you: On Task Press ‘T’ Off Task Press ‘O’

10 Sustained Attention to Response Task 3 5 7 9 2 Time 1 4 X Participant is asked to respond to stimuli presented on the screen (digits 0 -9). Behavioural marker Asked to withhold a response when the stimulus is an ‘X’. Subjective marker Reports of mental states at thought probes 3 5 7 9 TP Thought Probe (TP) Subjective Index Behavioural Index

11 Experimental Approach Measures of mind wandering can be both an Independent Variable (IV) – when we consider the objective precedents of mind wandering a Dependent Variable (DV) – when we examine the factors the incline the mind to wander.

12 Mind wandering & a negative mood A case study Mind wandering as an IV What are the physiological indicators of mind wandering? How does this relate to current mood levels? Mind wandering as a DV How do different mood states effect the amount of mind wandering?

13 Mind Wandering and emotion Role of Emotion Sad moods may lead to an under commitment of attentional resources on the task (Jefferies et al., 2008). To cope with the aversive nature of negative moods, individuals may engage in self reflection (Kuhl, 2000).

14 40 Participants Completed a word learning task Measures Measure of Depression Centre of epidemiological studies inventory (CESD) Attentional focus (thought probes) Physiological arousal Heart rate Skin conductance level Mind wandering & Dysphoria Mind wandering as an IV

15 trainsnowappletreeTP t Subjective Reports of On / Off Task Cued recall (Tr _ _ _) Physiological arousal (SCR, HR) Measures Mind wandering as an IV Smallwood et al. (2007). Cognition & Emotion

16 Cued Recall Periods of mind wandering were associated with fewer correct completions than were periods of on task processing Smallwood et al. (2007). Cognition & Emotion

17 Physiological Measures Periods when the mind wandered were associated with a higher skin conductance response (SCR, right) and faster heart rate (HR, left). Smallwood et al. (2007). Mind wandering and dysphoria. Cognition & Emotion

18 Heart Rate The greatest increase in heart rate due to mind wandering was observed in the dysphoric individuals. Smallwood et al. (2007). Cognition & Emotion

19 Shifting moods, wandering minds Mind wandering as a DV 59 Participants watched either a positive, negative or neutral film Completed a ten minute SART Provided retrospective measures of subjective experience Smallwood et al. (in press) Emotion

20 Smallwood et al. (under revision) Emotion

21 TUT = Task Unrelated Thought; TRI = Task Related Interference Smallwood et al. (under revision) Emotion

22 MW & Mood Negative mood leads the mind to wander when faced with an undemanding task which requires sustained attention When in a negative mood, mind wandering entails greater physiological arousal

23 Theoretical overlap between creativity and mind wandering Mind wandering is an elusive momentary phenomenon and so is similar to the AHA experience related to personally salient events and so is similar to the problems upon which creativity is focused

24 A meta lapse Schooler (2002). meta awareness An intermittent state in which we take stock of the contents of consciousness Mind wandering episodes –begin without recognition (a failure of meta awareness) –ends when we catch ourselves mind wandering (engagement of meta awareness)

25 Thought Probe Just prior to being asked were you: On Task Press ‘O’ Off Task but aware (Tuning Out) Press ‘T’ Off Task but unaware (Zoning Out) Press ‘Z’

26 Going AWOL in the brain 23 participants Completed a SART Containing thought probes Measured the cortical processing of the task using event related potentials

27 Sustained Attention to Response Task 3 5 7 9 2 Time 1 4 X Participant is asked to respond to stimuli presented on the screen (digits 0 -9). Behavioural marker Asked to withhold a response when the stimulus is an ‘X’. Subjective marker Reports of mental states at thought probes 3 5 7 9 TP Thought Probe (TP) Subjective Index Behavioural Index

28 Analysis 4258X4258X t 9671TP t Subjective Reports of On / Off Task Behavioural indicator that participants were on or off task Consider the amplitude of the P3 ERP component prior to being on or off task, using both behavioural and subjective markers.

29 P3 indexes the extent to which stimulus context is updated in memory (e.g., Donchin, & Coles, 1988) or more generally, the amount of attentional resources directed towards that stimulus at time of presentation (e.g., Kramer & Strayer, 1988, Polich, 1986, Wickens et al., 1983)

30 Reduced Cognitive Analysis of the task environment during Mind- wandering 6 Stimuli Prior to an Error Main Effect (p<0.01) 6 Stimuli Prior to Thought Probe Main Effect (p<0.05) Smallwood, et al. (2008). Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience Behavioural markerSubjective marker

31 It’s the target! Duh! P300 Amplitude (  volts) Prior to Error P300 Amplitude (  volts) Prior to Zoning Out

32 The curious incident of the wandering mind Participants read a Sherlock Holmes novella and then answered questions regarding the crime Included awareness probes –Random Intervals –Inference Critical Episodes (ICES) points when a clue to the nature of the crime was revealed Smallwood, et al. (2008). Memory & Cognition.

33 Who dunnit? People who zoned out at critical ICE could not identify the pseudonym used by the villain Smallwood, et al. (2008). Memory & Cognition.

34 Temporal Specificity Unsuccessful ReadersSuccessful Readers * Ability to identify the villains identity was specifically related to Zoning Out at ICEs Smallwood, et al. (2008). Memory & Cognition.

35  reduces cortical processing of the external world  impairs text comprehension  both occur when we lose track of our thoughts Internal Representations External Information Working Memory Momentary lapses When the mind wanders we momentarily leave the ‘here and now’…

36 Mental Time Travel Tulving (1985) the ability to project oneself mentally into either the past or the future Prospective cognition is seen as a particularly valuable component of human cognition (Schacter et al., 2007) The self is seen as important resource in facilitating our ability to anticipate future events – known as ‘self-projection’ (Buckner & Carroll, 2007)

37 Mental Time Travel in Ongoing Thought 77 participants Measured mind wandering using thought probes Prospective / Retrospective TUT Completed three tasks –Simple working memory –Choice Reaction Time –Passive viewing

38 Temporal Focus Probe Just prior to being asked were you: Thinking in the here and now (Press H) Thinking about a personal event in the future (Press F) Thinking about a personal event from the past (Press P)

39 Task Environment A Prospective Bias to Mind Wandering Participants were inclined to consider the future when the task did not involve continuous monitoring. Smallwood et al., (in press). Consciousness & Cognition

40 120 Participants Read a simple second grade text Provided reports of mind wandering Probe Caught Self Caught Completed 3 measures Unusual Uses Test Remote Associates Test Inhibition The Imaginative Lapse?

41 Assessing awareness Self Caught / Probe Caught Ratio Different methods of reporting mind wandering tap into different aspects of the phenomenon –Probe Caught – estimate of mind wandering –Self caught – ability to recognize In combination it is possible to stratify individuals in terms of these different dimensions

42 Participants who tend to Self catch their minds wandering, say they are zoning out when caught at probes. Spontaneous versus Deliberate?

43 Remote Associates Test The Probe Caught Ratio did not vary with performance on the RAT (LEFT) but did predict UUT performance (BELOW) Participants who tended to catch their minds wandering but were not caught at probes produced the most solutions to the UUT (LEFT)

44 Spontaneous versus deliberate lapses in imagination? Engaging in spontaneous mind wandering (Zoning Out) combined with the ability to recognize (Self Catching) is related to successful completions on the UUT.

45 Final thought…. Next time you catch yourself mind wandering at a dull cognitive talk, try to remember what it is that you were thinking about…


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