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Research into both mindfulness and mind-wandering has grown rapidly, yet clarification of the relationship between these two seemingly opposing constructs is still absent. A first study addresses the relationship between a dispositional measure of mindfulness (Mindful Attention and Awareness Scale, MAAS) and converging measures of both self-reported and indirect markers of mind-wandering. Negative correlations between dispositional mindfulness and 4 measures of mind-wandering confirm the opposing relationship between the 2 constructs and further validate the use of the MAAS as a dispositional measure of mindfulness. A second study demonstrated that 8 minutes of mindful breathing reduces behavioral indicators of mind-wandering during a Sustained Attention to Response Task compared with both passive relaxation and reading. Together these studies clarify the opposition between the constructs of mindfulness and mind-wandering and so should lead to greater convergence between what have been predominately separate, yet mutually relevant, lines of research.
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Mindfulness and Mind-Wandering: Finding Convergence
Through Opposing Constructs
Michael D. Mrazek, Jonathan Smallwood, and Jonathan W. Schooler
Online First Publication, February 6, 2012. doi: 10.1037/a0026678
Mrazek, M. D., Smallwood, J., & Schooler, J. W. (2012, February 6). Mindfulness and
Mind-Wandering: Finding Convergence Through Opposing Constructs. Emotion. Advance
online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0026678
Mindfulness and Mind-Wandering:
Finding Convergence Through Opposing Constructs
Michael D. Mrazek
University of California, Santa Barbara
Jonathan Smallwood
Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences,
Leipzig, Germany
Jonathan W. Schooler
University of California, Santa Barbara
Research into both mindfulness and mind-wandering has grown rapidly, yet clarification of the relation-
ship between these two seemingly opposing constructs is still absent. A first study addresses the
relationship between a dispositional measure of mindfulness (Mindful Attention and Awareness Scale,
MAAS) and converging measures of both self-reported and indirect markers of mind-wandering.
Negative correlations between dispositional mindfulness and 4 measures of mind-wandering confirm the
opposing relationship between the 2 constructs and further validate the use of the MAAS as a
dispositional measure of mindfulness. A second study demonstrated that 8 minutes of mindful breathing
reduces behavioral indicators of mind-wandering during a Sustained Attention to Response Task
compared with both passive relaxation and reading. Together these studies clarify the opposition between
the constructs of mindfulness and mind-wandering and so should lead to greater convergence between
what have been predominately separate, yet mutually relevant, lines of research.
Keywords: mindfulness, mind-wandering, attention
While the restless nature of attention has been a feature of
Eastern philosophical thought for several thousand years, it has
only recently become a focus of scientific research. Studies have
begun to investigate the dispositional tendency to mindfully an-
chor attention on the here and now (Brown, 2007), while a con-
ceptually related research domain has examined the processes
which govern intermittent shifts of attention away from the task at
hand (known as mind-wandering, for reviews see Smallwood &
Schooler, 2006; Schooler et al., 2011). Given that mindfulness and
mind-wandering appear to be opposing constructs with respect to
the ability to remain undistracted, the current set of studies first
review the conceptual relationship between these constructs and
then examine whether mindfulness training is capable of leading to
reductions in mind-wandering.
A recent special issue of Emotion dedicated to mindfulness was
prefaced with a commentary calling for further validation of self-
reported measures of dispositional mindfulness by linking such
measures to existing methods for assessing mind-wandering (Da-
vidson, 2010). Mindfulness is operationalized in a variety of ways,
with ongoing disagreement as to the most privileged and useful
definition of this construct (Grossman & Van Dam, 2011). One
perspective defines mindfulness as sustained nondistraction
(Brown & Ryan, 2003; Wallace & Shapiro, 2006; Dreyfus, 2011),
whereas multifactor construals of mindfulness emphasize not only
awareness of present experience but also an orientation toward
one’s experiences characterized by curiosity, openness, and accep-
tance (Bishop et al., 2004; Baer, Smith, Hopkins, Krietemeyer, &
Toney, 2006). Amid this disagreement, there is nonetheless con-
sensus that sustained attentiveness represents a fundamental ele-
ment (if not a complete characterization) of mindfulness. Accord-
ingly, we focused our investigation on mindfulness as
nondistraction as it is operationalized by the Mindful Awareness
Attention Scale (MAAS), the most widely used dispositional mea-
sure addressing the extent to which an individual attends without
distraction to present experience (e.g., I find myself listening to
someone with one ear, doing something else at the same time,
reverse scored) (Brown & Ryan, 2003).
In direct contrast to mindfulness, which entails a capacity to
avoid distraction, mind-wandering is characteristically described
as the interruption of task focus by task-unrelated thought (TUT)
(Smallwood & Schooler, 2006). Many behavioral markers of
mind-wandering have a distinctly mindless quality, such as rapid
and automatic responding during continuous performance tasks
(Smallwood et al., 2004), absent-minded forgetting (Smallwood,
Baracaia, Lowe, & Obonsawin, 2003), and eye-movements during
reading that show little regard for the lexical or linguistic proper-
ties of what is being read (Reichle, Reineberg, & Schooler, 2010).
Furthermore, event-related potential studies have demonstrated
that instances of mind-wandering are characterized by a reduced
awareness of task stimuli and the external environment (Barron et
al., in press; Smallwood, Beach, Schooler, & Handy, 2008; Kam et
Michael D. Mrazek and Jonathan W. Schooler, Department of Psycho-
logical & Brain Sciences, University of California, Santa Barbara; Jona-
than Smallwood, Department of Social Neuroscience, Max Planck Institute
for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Leipzig, Germany.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Michael
D. Mrazek, Department of Psychology, University of California, Santa
Barbara, CA 93106. E-mail:
Emotion © 2012 American Psychological Association
2012, Vol. ●●, No. , 000– 000 1528-3542/12/$12.00 DOI: 10.1037/a0026678
al., 2011). The ability to remain mindfully focused on a task
therefore appears to be in direct opposition to the tendency for
attention to wander to task-unrelated concerns. Where mindfulness
ends, mind-wandering begins.
The conceptual relationship between mindfulness and mind-
wandering clearly warrants careful empirical investigation to es-
tablish the actual relationship between these two seemingly op-
posing constructs (Davidson, 2010). Two prior studies have
examined the association between self-reported dispositional
mindfulness and indirect markers of mind-wandering during a task
in which attentional lapses are problematic (the Sustained Atten-
tion to Response Task, SART). The SART is a GO/NOGO task
and its performance markers are among the most carefully vali-
dated and commonly used indirect measures of mind-wandering
(Smallwood et al., 2004, Smallwood, Fishman, & Schooler, 2007,
Smallwood et al. 2008; McVay & Kane, 2009; Cheyne et al.,
2009). Low self-reported mindfulness as measured by the MAAS
is associated with fast and careless responding in the SART
(Cheyne, Carriere, & Smilek, 2006). An adapted version of the
MAAS called the MAAS-LO (lapses only) has also been associ-
ated with several performance markers of mind-wandering in the
SART (Cheyne, Solman, Carriere, & Smilek, 2009). These studies
provide preliminary evidence that mindfulness and mind-
wandering are conceptually linked, yet because these indirect
measures can be influenced by factors besides task-unrelated
thought (McVay & Kane, 2009) it is important to validate the
MAAS with direct reports of mind-wandering. Furthermore, in
order to establish the relationship between these constructs, it is
important to address whether measures of mind-wandering are
predictive of distraction within the contexts of tasks typically
associated with the application of mindfulness (e.g., meditation).
Study 1 addresses these issues by embedding thought sampling
into a meditation task structured to represent one way mindfulness
is characteristically developed and practiced, thereby establishing
a more ecologically valid paradigm for research into mindfulness.
If mindfulness and mind-wandering can be convincingly dem-
onstrated to be opposing constructs, this insight would provide
many opportunities for convergence between what have histori-
cally been largely separate lines of research. For instance, the
well-established disruptive role that mind-wandering can exert on
task performance (e.g., Smallwood et al., 2003, 2004, 2007, Small-
wood, McSpadden, Luus, & Schooler, 2008; Reichle et al., 2010)
could be reduced by exercises that increase mindfulness. While
mindfulness training has been demonstrated to improve executive
attention, perceptual sensitivity, and even sustained attention
(Tang et al., 2007; MacLean et al., 2010), the impact of mindful-
ness training on mind-wandering is less clear. In fact, to date there
has been little progress in developing effective strategies for re-
ducing mind-wandering. Study 2 therefore examines whether a
brief mindfulness exercise can reduce mind-wandering, thereby
potentially both introducing an effective antidote to mind-
wandering and establishing a causal relationship between the pres-
ence of mindfulness and the absence of mind-wandering.
Summary and Experimental Overview
Mindfulness and mind-wandering appear to be conceptually
opposing constructs with respect to undistracted attention. Study 1
addresses this relationship by associating naturally occurring vari-
ation in dispositional mindfulness with four converging indicators
of mind-wandering, including a novel and more ecologically valid
measure of mind-wandering during mindful breathing. Building on
this work, Study 2 explores whether a brief period of mindful
breathing reduces indicators of mind-wandering during a subse-
quent task.
Study 1
Study 1 examines the association between four sets of variables:
(a) self-reported dispositional mindfulness, (b) self-reported dis-
positional daydreaming, (c) experience sampling of mind-
wandering during a mindful breathing task, and (d) two indirect
performance measures of mind-wandering during the SART. Us-
ing both indirect and self-reported measures of mind-wandering,
Study 1 provides a comprehensive examination of the relationship
between mindfulness and mind-wandering.
One hundred and seventeen (33 males) undergraduate students
participated in exchange for course credit (mean age !19, SD !
1.33). Four participants were excluded for failing to complete the
dispositional questionnaires. One hundred thirteen participants
were therefore included in the final analysis. All studies reported
were approved by the University of California Santa Barbara’s
Institutional Review Board and informed consent was obtained
from each participant at the beginning of the experimental session.
All participants completed a 10-minute mindful breathing task
with thought sampling probes, a 10-minute mindful breathing task
requiring self-catching of mind-wandering, and a 10-minute SART
in a counterbalanced order. Stimuli for all studies were presented
via E-Prime (Version 2.1, Psychology Software Tools, Pittsburgh,
PA) using Dell desktops in individual soundproof rooms.
During both mindful breathing tasks, participants were in-
structed to continuously focus their attention on the sensations of
their breath without attempting to control the rate of respiration.
They were asked to keep their eyes open and gaze into the space
in front of them. For the experience sampling version of this task,
six thought probes occurred at quasi-random intervals on the
computer screen, alerting participants to indicate whether their
attention was directed to the task or task-unrelated concerns using
a 5-point Likert scale (1 !completely on task, 5!completely on
task-unrelated concerns). For the self-catching version of this task,
participants were asked to press the spacebar anytime they noticed
their attention had drifted to task-unrelated concerns.
The SART is a GO/NOGO task that has been repeatedly used as
an indirect measure of mind-wandering (Smallwood et al., 2004;
Cheyne et al., 2009). Participants were asked to respond as quickly
as possible to frequent nontargets (O’s) by pressing the spacebar
and to refrain from responding to rare targets (Q’s). A total of 240
stimuli were presented, including 216 nontargets and 24 targets
that occurred at unpredictable quasi-random intervals. Stimuli
were presented for 2 s with an interstimulus interval of 500 ms.
Different performance markers in this task have been associated
with varying degrees of task disengagement, with failures of
omission to targets (SART errors) generally indicating a more
pronounced distraction than a large response time coefficient of
variability (reaction time [RT] CV). RT CV has been shown to
indicate a qualitatively distinct state of mind-wandering that
emerges from a minimally disruptive disengagement of attention
(Cheyne et al., 2009). This state is characterized by a periodic
speeding and slowing of response times as attention fluctuates
slightly (Smallwood et al., 2008). RT CV complements SART
errors by addressing minimally pronounced occurrences of mind-
Following these tasks, mood was measured using the Positive
and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS) (Watson, Clark, & Tel-
legen, 1988). This measure consists of two 10-item scales mea-
suring positive and negative affect. Participants were asked to rate
to what extent they felt a certain way right now from 1 (very
slightly or not at all)to5(extremely). Participants also completed
dispositional measures of mindfulness (MAAS) and daydreaming
(Imaginal Processes Inventory (IPI), Daydreaming Subscale). The
MAAS-LO scores were calculated by dropping three items from
the MAAS—two relating to the consequences of attention lapses
rather than the lapses themselves and one addressing lapses while
driving, which may have limited applicability to college under-
graduates (Carriere, Cheyne, & Smilek, 2008).
Table 1 presents the correlations between measures as well as
interitem reliability for the three questionnaires. Analysis of vari-
ance (ANOVA) indicated no effect of gender was observed on any
of the variables. MAAS scores indicating high levels of mindful-
ness were negatively correlated with self-reported trait mind-
wandering. Furthermore, high levels of trait mindfulness were also
associated with less mind-wandering as measured by self-reported
TUT during mindful breathing, SART errors, and RT CV. These
results provide converging evidence suggesting that mindfulness
and mind-wandering are roughly opposing constructs.
The only measure of mind-wandering which was not associated
with mindfulness, was self-caught TUT during mindful breathing.
One explanation for this finding is that self-catching measures both
distraction and subsequent metaawareness of the distraction
(Schooler, Reichle, & Halpern, 2004), two dimensions which may
have inverse associations with mindfulness (see Mason et al., 2007
for a discussion of this issue).
We next ensured that the meditation task was not influencing
SART performance in a way that would invalidate the observed
association between the MAAS and SART performance by exam-
ining the effect of task order on SART errors. No significant
differences were found between those who completed the SART
first (M !2.97), after one meditation task (M !2.84), or after two
meditation tasks (M !3.63), F(2, 110) !1.142, p!.32. None-
theless, these small numerical differences suggest that a targeted
mindfulness exercise designed to reduce mind-wandering may be
most effective when of short duration.
As shown in Table 1, high levels of negative affect measured by
the PANAS were associated with more SART errors. This finding
is consistent with a large body of evidence indicating that negative
affect is associated with SART errors (Smallwood et al., 2005,
2007, Smallwood, Fitzgerald, Miles, & Phillips, 2009; Seibert &
Ellis, 1991). In the present study, negative affect was unassociated
with MAAS scores, suggesting that trait mindfulness and negative
affect may make unique contributions to an individual’s tendency
to make errors in tasks of sustained attention. To test this possi-
bility, we conducted a simultaneous regression analysis predicting
SART errors from MAAS scores and negative affect. Together the
two predictors explained approximately 9% of the variance in
SART errors, R
!.089, F(1, 110) !5.364, p".01. An inspec-
tion of the standardized partial regression coefficients (#) and
semipartial correlations (sr
) revealed that both variables explained
a significant amount of unique variance in SART errors, with
MAAS scores being the strongest individual predictor. These
findings revealed that SART errors were fewer for those with high
dispositional mindfulness (#!–.24, p".05, sr
!.06) and
greater for those experiencing more negative affect (#!.19, p"
.001, sr
Study 1 demonstrates that mindfulness and mind-wandering can
reasonably be thought of as opposite sides of the same coin. High
self-reported dispositional mindfulness was associated with less
Table 1
Correlations Among Trait Mindfulness, Task Performance, and Mind-Wandering
Variable 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
1. MAAS .849
2. MAAS-LO .961
3. RT CV $.188
4. SART errors $.234
5. TUT $.220
.088 —
6. IPI $.237
.060 .258
7. Self-caught TUT $.086 $.107 .227
.176 .255
8. Negative affect .005 .002 $.025 .184
.014 .018 $.018 —
9. Positive affect .054 .082 $.076 $.091 $.027 .001 $.091 $.088
Note. N !113. MAAS !Mindful Attention Awareness Scale; MAAS-LO !Mindful Attention Awareness Scale - Lapses Only; RT CV !Response
Time Coefficient of Variability (SD/Mean); TUT !self-reported task-unrelated thought; IPI !Imaginal Processes Inventory Daydreaming Subscale.
Cronbach’s alpha measure of reliability for the three questionnaires measures are presented in italics.
mind-wandering using four converging indicators. This finding
lends support to the use of the MAAS as an operationalization of
mindfulness (e.g., Way et al., 2010) and clarifies the relationship
between two intuitively related and increasingly studied psycho-
logical constructs. Future research should examine whether com-
pleting attention tasks like the ones used in this study alters
participants’ responses on self-report scales like the MAAS, per-
haps by increasing their familiarity with their attentional perfor-
mance. Future work could also extend the association between
mindfulness and mind-wandering using event-related potential and
functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) measures of mind-
wandering which have themselves been validated using the self-
report and behavioral measures used in the present study (Barron
et al., 2011; Smallwood et al., 2008; Kam et al., 2011; Christoff,
Gordon, Smallwood, Smith, & Schooler, 2009).
Study 2
Study 1 established an association between the constructs of
mind-wandering and mindfulness using a correlational design.
Study 2 examines this issue in greater detail by examining whether
inducing mindfulness can attenuate mind-wandering. This expec-
tation is consistent with the many well-documented benefits of
mindfulness training (see Brown, 2007 for a review). However,
many prior studies have utilized intensive meditation training
lasting months or years, limiting the applicability of observed
improvements for most societal and educational contexts
(Brefczynski-Lewis, Lutz, Schaefer, Levinson, & Davidson, 2007;
MacLean et al., 2010). Other encouraging studies have found
beneficial results from training as brief as two weeks to four days
(Tang et al., 2007; Zeidan, Johnson, Diamond, David, & Goolka-
sian, 2010), However, to date, no published mindfulness training
study has specifically examined its impact on mind-wandering.
Furthermore, from a methodological perspective, meditation inter-
vention studies typically include so many different aspects in their
intervention that it is difficult to discern which specific element is
responsible for any observed changes. What is needed in order to
discern the causal role of mindfulness in mitigating mind-
wandering is a simple manipulation that directly and specifically
targets individuals’ ability to remain mindful. Using such an ap-
proach, one recent study found improvement in emotional re-
sponding to emotion-inducing videos following an 8 minute mind-
fulness exercise (Erisman & Roemer, 2010). Given that an
8-minute intervention would provide the simplest and most acces-
sible mindfulness exercise while also allowing for a high degree of
experimental control, Study 2 examined whether a brief mindful
breathing exercise can decrease mind wandering.
Sixty (22 males) undergraduate students participated in ex-
change for course credit (mean age !19, SD !1.17). Participants
were recruited to a study entitled “Relaxation & Attention”
through the University of California Santa Barbara subject pool.
After 20 practice trials in the SART, participants were randomly
assigned to conditions and completed 8 minutes of either mindful
breathing, passive relaxation, or reading. Expectation effects and
demand characteristics were minimized by informing all partici-
pants that they were participating in a study designed to examine
the effect of relaxation on attention. The mindful breathing con-
dition provided participants with the simple instruction to sit in an
upright position while focusing their attention on the sensations of
their breath without trying to control the rate of respiration and to
return their attention to the breath anytime they became distracted.
Unlike Study 1, participants were not asked to keep their eyes open
and were not required to make any responses during the exercise.
Participants in the reading condition were asked to browse a
popular local newspaper. Those in the passive rest condition were
asked to relax without falling asleep. Following this manipulation,
all participants immediately completed the same 10-minute SART
used in Study 1. Mood was measured before and after the manip-
ulation by asking participants to rate their current degree of energy,
pleasantness, and relaxation using a 9-point Likert scale.
We first examined the effects of mindful breathing on two
indirect measures of mind-wandering: SART errors and RT CV.
Univariate ANOVA revealed an effect of condition on both SART
errors, F(2, 57) !3.80, p".05, and RT CV, F(2, 57) !3.10, p!
.05. As displayed in Figure 1, follow-up post hoc tests indicated
that both SART errors and RT CV in the mindful breathing
condition were significantly less than in either comparison group
(p’s ".05). As predicted, 8 minutes of mindful breathing reduced
mind-wandering as compared with passive relaxation or reading.
We next analyzed the decay curve to see whether mindful
breathing had an equivalent effect on performance throughout the
duration of the task. The SART was divided into four equal task
blocks, each corresponding to 60 trials and six targets. Mind-
wandering increased over the duration of the task as indicated by
a main effect of task block in a repeated-measures ANOVA, F(3,
171) !2.857, p!.039. However, there was no interaction
between condition and task block, F(6, 171) !.976, p!.443. The
relative reduction in mind-wandering following mindful breathing
therefore appears to have been stable across the 10-minute task.
We next examined the effect of condition separately on each of
the three measures on mood. A repeated-measures ANOVA re-
vealed a main effect of session indicating that participants reported
feeling more relaxed after the manipulation, F(2, 57) !6.74, p!
.01. A marginally significant Time %Condition interaction sug-
gests that this effect was strongest among those in the mindful
breathing condition, F(2, 57) !2.643, p!.08. However, no main
effects or interactions were observed for pleasantness or energy
(p’s &.05).
Finally, we examined the effect of mood measured prior to the
attention task on SART errors and RT CV. Consistent with Study
1, SART errors were negatively correlated with high energy (r!
–.267, p".05), pleasantness (r!–.304, p".05), and relaxation
(r!–.266, p".05), whereas RT CV was not associated with
mood (p’s &.05). Although SART errors and RT CV were
Two unpublished studies have found evidence that meditation training
courses are associated with a reduction in SART errors (Wong et al., 2008;
Jha, Stanley, Kiyonaga, Wong, & Gelfand , 2009).
strongly correlated in this study (r!.400, p".001) and in Study
1(r!.449, p".001), negative affect was uniquely associated
with SART errors. Given that SART errors are considered an
indicator of more pronounced mind-wandering than RT CV
(Cheyne et al., 2009), one possible interpretation is that negative
affect leads to a particularly engrossing form of mind-wandering.
Study 2 demonstrates that 8 minutes of mindful breathing can
attenuate indirect performance markers of mind-wandering in a
task of sustained attention. Only brief written instructions of the
technique and 8 minutes of mindful breathing were necessary to
achieve the observed improvement, indicating that further inves-
tigation into the utility of brief interventions is warranted.
Although we cannot determine the precise mechanism by which
the mindfulness exercise reduced mind-wandering, at least two
possibilities warrant further consideration. First, mindfulness ex-
ercises may reduce the actual occurrence of task-unrelated
thoughts. Attending to a simple stimulus, such as the breath,
provides fertile ground for distracting thoughts to arise, but such
thoughts may lose their disruptive salience when they are contin-
ually ignored. A second possibility is that mindfulness exercises
improve metacognitive regulation, perhaps increasing awareness
of mind-wandering and thereby allowing attention to be redirected
from off-task thoughts more quickly. These differing explana-
tions—which are not mutually exclusive—provide direction for
future research.
Although not the primary focus of the present investigation, one
interesting pattern of findings observed in Study 1 and replicated
in Study 2 is the relationship between mood and mind-wandering.
Intriguingly, the two experiments used different measures of mood
and yet both found that negative affect correlated with SART
errors but not with other indirect and self-reported measures of
mind-wandering. The association between negative affect and
SART errors is now well-established (Smallwood et al., 2005,
2007, 2009), yet the present studies indicate that this association is
not true for all markers of mind-wandering. The unique association
between mood and SART errors in the present studies may suggest
that the association between mind-wandering and negative affect
emerges only during pronounced task-disengagement. Future re-
search should further clarify the circumstances in which mind-
wandering and mood interact.
General Discussion
By clarifying the opposing relationship between mindfulness
and mind-wandering, the present studies make several contribu-
tions to the understanding of these constructs. First, Study 1
demonstrated a reliable negative correlation between an existing
measure of mindfulness and multiples markers of mind-wandering.
Study 2 further underlined this conceptual relationship by demon-
strating that mindful breathing reduces behavioral indicators of
mind-wandering in a subsequent task. The effectiveness of this
intervention establishes a causal relationship between the cultiva-
tion of mindfulness and subsequent reduction in mind-wandering.
Given the robust relationship between mind-wandering and im-
paired task performance (for reviews see Smallwood & Schooler,
2006; Smallwood et al., 2007), the benefits of a straightforward
and simple activity to reduce mind-wandering has great practical
significance. Future research should investigate the impact of
mindful breathing exercises on other activities that are known to be
disrupted by mind-wandering.
By specifying the relationship between mindfulness and mind-
wandering, the present study also helps to bridge two rapidly
growing streams of research into an integrated understanding of
undistracted attention. For example, existing research indicates
that training in mindfulness can reduce activation of the default-
mode network, a collection of brain regions that typically show
greater activation at rest than during externally directed cognitive
tasks. Both long-term meditators and individuals who have com-
pleted a 2-week meditation program show reduced activation of
the default-mode network (Brefczynski-Lewis et al., 2007; Tang et
al., 2009). Given that this network has been repeatedly associated
with markers of mind-wandering (Christoff et al., 2009; Mason et
al., 2007), the improvement in sustained attention following mind-
ful breathing observed in Study 2 may be mediated by diminished
default-mode activation. Future research should directly test
whether mindfulness training reduces mind-wandering by damp-
ening activation of the default mode network.
Figure 1. Reduction of mind-wandering following mindful breathing.
Note: n!60. Two performance markers during the SART indicated that
8 minutes of mindful breathing led to a reduction in mind-wandering.
SART Errors refer to errors of commission when a participant fails to
withhold a response to rare nontargets. Reaction Time Coefficient of
Variability is calculated as the standard deviation of RT divided by the
mean RT.
We focused our investigation on mindfulness as nondistraction,
which we believe represents the element most central to mindful-
ness and also most directly linked to mind-wandering (Brown &
Ryan, 2003; Wallace & Shapiro, 2006). However, more complex
operational definitions of mindfulness emphasize additional fea-
tures of the experience that may also be associated with mind-
wandering. For example, Bishop & colleagues (2004) have for-
malized a two-factor construal of mindfulness that emphasizes not
only nondistraction, but also a curious, open, and accepting orien-
tation toward one’s experience. One possibility is that mind-
wandering has a similar relationship to this nonjudgmental orien-
tation: being fully attentive to a given sensation may preclude the
possibility of being closed or intolerant toward it. Yet it is also
possible that it is the content of mind-wandering that is most
strongly associated with the nonjudgmental orientation toward
one’s experience. Future research could profitably investigate how
the actual content of mind-wandering episodes relates to the var-
ious subprocesses of multifaceted frameworks for mindfulness.
Perhaps the most compelling question for future research is to
untangle the relationship between the benefits of mindfulness and
the potential benefits of mind-wandering. After all, the human
capacity to plan the future and reflect on past experience has clear
adaptive value (Smallwood, 2010; Baars, 2010). There may be
many circumstances in which diverting attention away from a
simple primary task is beneficial. Yet the accumulating evidence
for the positive outcomes of mindfulness could be interpreted by
some to suggest that mind-wandering is of little or no benefit.
Future research should address this issue, perhaps by examining
whether the practice of mindfulness affords a degree of control
over mind-wandering that allows for its benefits while minimizing
its costs.
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Received July 7, 2010
Revision received July 29, 2011
Accepted August 19, 2011 "
... Of note, the relation between the opposing constructs of mindfulness and mind wandering has received some scienti c attention (Mrazek et al., 2012). According to Smallwood and Schooler (2015), mind wandering refers to "task-unrelated thoughts and stimulus-independent." When individuals are dispositionally more mindful, they are also less likely to engage in mind wandering (Mrazek et al., 2012). ...
... Of note, the relation between the opposing constructs of mindfulness and mind wandering has received some scienti c attention (Mrazek et al., 2012). According to Smallwood and Schooler (2015), mind wandering refers to "task-unrelated thoughts and stimulus-independent." When individuals are dispositionally more mindful, they are also less likely to engage in mind wandering (Mrazek et al., 2012). This relation is further supported by mindfulness-based interventions involving university students, which showed that the practice of mindfulness was related to fewer distracting thoughts and fewer episodes of mind wandering (Miller et al., 2019;Mrazek et al., 2012;2013). ...
... According to Smallwood and Schooler (2015), mind wandering refers to "task-unrelated thoughts and stimulus-independent." When individuals are dispositionally more mindful, they are also less likely to engage in mind wandering (Mrazek et al., 2012). This relation is further supported by mindfulness-based interventions involving university students, which showed that the practice of mindfulness was related to fewer distracting thoughts and fewer episodes of mind wandering (Miller et al., 2019;Mrazek et al., 2012;2013). Despite the existing ndings between the opposing constructs, little is known about why and how mindfulness is associated with mind wandering. ...
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Previous research suggests that mindfulness and mind wandering are opposing constructs. However, little is known about why and how they are negatively related. Through a process-oriented approach, this study tested self-compassion and grit as mediators for the relation between mindfulness and mind wandering. A total of 487 meditators were recruited from the UK (241 female, 49.49%). Participants reported a mean age of 38.98 years ( SD = 10.03), with an average of 2.26 hours of meditation practice per week ( SD = 4.47). Upon informed consent, the participants completed a self-report questionnaire that assessed the core variables under study. A path model was conducted to investigate the mediation model. The path model revealed that mindfulness was related to self-compassion. Greater self-compassion was, in turn, related to greater grit, which was then related to lower mind wandering. Bootstrapping analysis further indicated that self-compassion and grit were mediators between mindfulness and mind wandering, above and beyond age, gender, and hours of meditation as covariates. This study revealed self-compassion and grit as mediators for the relation between mindfulness and mind wandering. These findings provided new evidence by showing the initial mechanisms between mindfulness and mind wandering.
... Regarding cognitive inhibition, Mrazek et al. (2012; second experiment) reported improved inhibitory control following an 8-minute breathing meditation compared to a relaxation control condition (relax without falling asleep) and a reading control condition. Following 10 min of mindful breathing, Norris et al. (2018) found improvements in inhibition compared to a passive control condition in which participants listened to a recording of a magazine article. ...
... Methodological differences and inconsistencies also render it impossible to estimate dose-response relations. For example, using prepost designs with active and passive control conditions, Polak (2009) and Vieth and von Stockhausen (2022) found no mindfulness-specific effects on inhibitory control after total training durations of 30 and 40 min, while Mrazek et al. (2012) report improvements in inhibitory control following 8 min of mindful breathing compared to a relaxation condition and a passive control condition in a post-test only design. ...
... If the effects of brief trainings in mindful breathing meditation on executive functions are domain-general and are different from those of relaxation, Experiment 1 should find improved shifting (as found by Vieth & von Stockhausen, 2022), improved inhibition (in accordance with Mrazek et al., 2012;Wenk-Sormaz, 2005), and improved updating (in line with Zeidan et al., 2010) in comparison to relaxation training (and compared to the passive control condition). Furthermore, if effects of short mindful breathing meditation trainings are stable and unfold with practice time, Experiment 2 should at least reproduce the findings of Experiment 1 or go beyond them. ...
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While current models of mindfulness propose benefits to the executive functions of inhibition, updating and shifting through mindful breathing meditations, empirical findings on the effects of short mindful breathing meditations are inconclusive regarding their specificity and dose-response relations. Therefore, we compared short mindful breathing meditations (Experiment 1, 45 min over three sessions; Experiment 2, 80 min over four sessions) with relaxation trainings (progressive muscle relaxation; active control) and listening to podcasts (passive control) in two randomized controlled double-blinded trials. Reaction time tasks were used to assess the executive functions of updating (N-Back), inhibition (CPT-II), and shifting (Number-Letter Task). Results of both experiments suggest no mindfulness-specific improvements in executive functions. We conclude that effects following the first stages of mindfulness training may not be specific to the practice or too transient to be reliably measured in pre-post intervention designs. Implications for research in the field are discussed.
... Therefore, by first training in focused attention meditation, one can develop meta-awareness and the ability to disengage from distractions using a discernible and perceptible interoceptive anchor (i.e., breathing sensations) amenable to both voluntary manipulation as well as conscious observation (Jha et al., 2007;Laukkonen and Slagter, 2021;Trungpa, 2002;Valentine and Sweet, 1999). Consequently, focused attention meditation training (using breathing) can improve sustained attention (Wenk-Sormaz, 2005), reduce the incidence of mind-wandering (Mrazek et al., 2012), and attenuate maladaptive thinking patterns that may fuel stress and anxiety (Laukkonen and Slagter, 2021). Notably, deliberately attending to ongoing mental and bodily experiences can also dynamically influence one's capacity for non-judgemental introspective and interoceptive mind-body awareness (i.e., state mindfulness) (Ruimi et al., 2022;Tanay and Bernstein, 2013). ...
... Consequently, this poses a challenge in ascertaining the real-world impact of meditating inside an MRI scanner, and whether participants, especially beginners, can follow the meditation instructions as expected in the scanner. Specifically, performing focused attention meditation inside the scanner would be expected to enhance state mindfulness (Ruimi et al., 2022;Tanay and Bernstein, 2013), improve sustained attention (Wenk-Sormaz, 2005), reduce mind-wandering (Mrazek et al., 2012) and mitigate unpleasant states like anxiety (Laukkonen and Slagter, 2021). Validated assessments can be administered to measure putative meditation-related changes in each of these effects over time outside the MRI scanner. ...
... We were also interested in the broad concept of being focused on playing the game, both in terms of a positively valenced absorption 26,27 , and a more "meditative" quality of attending rather than allowing one's mind to wander 28,29 . We measured this quality of focusing on game play with the prompt "I was totally focused on playing Powerwash Simulator just now. ...
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The potential impacts that video games might have on players’ well-being are under increased scrutiny but poorly understood empirically. Although extensively studied, a level of understanding required to address concerns and advise policy is lacking, at least partly because much of this science has relied on artificial settings and limited self-report data. We describe a large and detailed dataset that addresses these issues by pairing video game play behaviors and events with in-game well-being and motivation reports. 11,080 players (from 39 countries) of the first person PC game PowerWash Simulator volunteered for a research version of the game that logged their play across 10 in-game behaviors and events (e.g. task completion) and 21 variables (e.g. current position), and responses to 6 psychological survey instruments via in-game pop-ups. The data consists of 15,772,514 gameplay events, 726,316 survey item responses, and 21,202,667 additional gameplay status records, and spans 222 days. The data and codebook are publicly available with a permissive CC0 license.
... The decreased alpha power observed in meditators may suggest 532 lower levels of mind-wandering and higher levels of alertness during the task. This is 533 consistent with the known benefits of meditation practice, such as reducing mind-wandering 534 and increasing presence (Kok & Singer, 2017;Mrazek et al., 2012;Verhaeghen, 2017). The 535 practice of Vipassana, which involves focused and open attention (Hart & Goenka, 1987), 536 may also contribute to this effect, as the lower alpha activity may reflect higher excitability 537 and an open attentional state without mind-wandering. ...
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The effects of mindfulness on body awareness and interoception have been proposed as potential mechanisms for its salutary effects. However, research investigating the relationship between mindfulness and body awareness using psychophysical measures is limited. In this study, we compared 31 expert meditators with 33 matched controls on somatosensory accuracy using a somatosensory signal detection task (SSDT) alongside interoception self-report instruments. Our main hypothesis was that meditators would show increased accuracy within the SSDT, indicating higher somatosensory accuracy (body awareness) and that this would be accompanied by neural correlates of increased alpha modulation over the somatosensory cortex as measured through EEG. Participants were asked to detect a near-threshold tactile sensation, which was combined with a non-informative light in 50% of the cases. Associations between prestimulus alpha activity and responses were analysed on a trial-by-trial basis. Contrary to our expectation, instead of an increase in accuracy, we observed a decrease in the decision threshold in meditators, while we found a decrease in prestimulus alpha power in meditators. A trial-by-trial analysis revealed a negative relationship between prestimulus alpha activity and the report of touch. Meditators self-reported higher interoceptive abilities compared to readers. These findings suggest that lower prestimulus alpha activity may have increased the probability of reporting touch within the SSDT, providing a potential mechanism for the increase in response rate in meditators. Our study indicates that meditation practice alters body awareness as shown by modulated prestimulus alpha activity, potentially decreasing the filter function over the somatosensory cortex.
... Supporting this, Hollis and Was (2016) have found that while watching online video lectures, almost 30% of the participating students' task-unrelated thoughts were about social media. Being mindful and therefore in the present moment, rather as letting the mind wander, seems to be a powerful strategy against constantly encountering internal mobile phone-related cues (Mrazek et al., 2012;Rahl et al., 2017) and translating them into phone checking, phone multitasking, or online vigilance and thus fuel mobile phone attachment. Bruineberg and Fabry (2022) even refer to habitual smartphone use as "extended mindwandering". ...
Many mobile phone usage behaviors and cognitions have become habitual, and many people have developed a strong connectedness to their mobile phones and the internet. Yet, habitualized mobile phone connectedness might evoke stress and counter long-term goals. Mindfulness has shown promise in counteracting destructive (mobile phone) habits. Over the course of three preregistered studies, we investigated the interrelations between mindfulness, four dimensions of mobile phone connectedness, and stress. Our results indicate that more mindful individuals check their mobile phones less automatically, perform less multitasking, have a lower mobile phone attachment, and experience less online vigilance. Self-control is an important mediator in these relationships. Further, mindful individuals experience less stress; however, mobile phone behaviors and cognitions do not mediate this relationship. Moreover, mindfulness-based stress reduction training or mediation apps seem to be powerful tools for cultivating mindfulness, as they promoted an increase in mindfulness and a decrease in the investigated dimensions of mobile phone connectedness and stress. Results are discussed regarding implications for research and practice.
... One way to conceptualize this shift is in terms of reductions in task-unrelated mental processing (cf. mind wandering), which has been closely investigated in empirical research on mindfulness [22,23]. This may be particularly relevant for the ...
Conference Paper
The objective of this experimental project is to develop, test, and validate a data-driven neuroscience approach, using virtual environments with electroencephalogram (EEG) and event-related potential (ERP) approaches. The goal is to provide objective neurophysiological information about how people respond to built environments and how sustain¬able buildings (SBs) impact people differently compared to conventional buildings (CBs). The hypotheses are centered on assessing for increased visual engagement with the SBs (views of external natural environment and internal spatial arrangement). The core framework is based on the idea that greater engagement with the built environment will enhance mindfulness (greater focus on the present environment), which will reduce stress and increase engagement with present-focused tasks. We employed both conventional time-domain and more advanced time-frequency analyses to assess brain activity while participants engaged in the environments.
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Previous studies have revealed that the differences in individuals’ beliefs about the extent to which mind wandering is controllable—termed the implicit theories of mind wandering—affect the frequencies of and responses to mind wandering. The Theories of Mind Wandering Scale (TOMW) assesses the implicit theories of mind wandering. This study aimed to develop a Japanese version of the TOMW and test its reliability and validity. We found that the Japanese version of the TOMW had a one-factor structure similar to that in the literature. Furthermore, the TOMW score was correlated with established measures of mind wandering in everyday life (Studies 1-4), thought control ability (Study 2), thought control strategies and dysfunctional responses to mind wandering (Study 3), and the frequencies of mind wandering during the Sustained Attention to Response Task (Study 4). Moreover, the scale had high internal consistency and test-retest reliability (Studies 1 & 2). These results suggest that the Japanese version of the TOMW has adequate reliability and validity.
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Cognitive failures at work (or errors in the workplace including blunders and memory lapses), can lead to considerable personal and organisational damage, even damage well beyond national borders in some organisations. Workplace errors may have a personality base; and mindfulness (or mindlessness) also appears to be related to workplace errors generally. Given the importance and cost of errors in the workplace it is of concern that no previous research appears to have addressed the relationships between cognitive failures at work, personality and mindfulness together. We aimed to address this gap. We administered the Cognitive Failures Questionnaire, the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale (MAAS) and the Big Five International Personality Item Pool 50-item questionnaire (IPIP) to a sample of 92 Australian-based employees from a variety of organisations. Our results showed workplace errors (including lapses in general memory, blunders, distractions and recall of names) were related to lower levels of mindfulness and to lower levels of emotional stability (that is, the other end of the neuroticism- emotional stability continuum). Extraversion was associated with not making blunders, but the other three factors of the Big Five (Openness, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness) were not found to be related to workplace errors. These results demonstrate important relationships between mindfulness and workplace errors; and personality (mainly Neuroticism- Emotional Stability) and workplace errors. Giving special attention to mindfulness training and to effective mental health training in organisations is recommended, especially where lapses in attention or workplace actions can lead to costly personal and organisational mistakes.
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The Buddhist construct of mindfulness is a central element of mindfulness-based interventions and derives from a systematic phenomenological programme developed over several millennia to investigate subjective experience. Enthusiasm for ‘mindfulness’ in Western psychological and other science has resulted in proliferation of definitions, operationalizations and self-report inventories that purport to measure mindful awareness as a trait. This paper addresses a number of seemingly intractable issues regarding current attempts to characterize mindfulness and also highlights a number of vulnerabilities in this domain that may lead to denaturing, distortion, dilution or reification of Buddhist constructs related to mindfulness. Enriching positivist Western psychological paradigms with a detailed and complex Buddhist phenomenology of the mind may require greater study and long-term direct practice of insight meditation than is currently common among psychologists and other scientists. Pursuit of such an approach would seem a necessary precondition for attempts to characterize and quantify mindfulness.
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An experiment is presented which investigated the relationship between rumination, dysphoria, and subjective experience during a short word-fragment completion task. Consistent with previous work off-task thinking, operationalized as task unrelated thought, was associated with dysphoria. By contrast, rumination was a significant predictor of task appraisal defined as task-related interference (TRI). While rumination did not directly contribute to the experience of task unrelated thinking (TUT), evidence was presented which suggests that when combined with a negative mood a ruminative style may amplify the association between this style of thinking and dysphoria. These findings suggest that we can distinguish between the phenomenological experience associated with rumination as distinct from dysphoria and this dissociation may be important in our ability to explain how self-focused attention contributes to enhanced psychological vulnerability.
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This study used event-related potentials to explore whether mind wandering (task-unrelated thought, or TUT) emerges through general problems in distraction, deficits of task-relevant processing (the executive-function view), or a general reduction in attention to external events regardless of their relevance (the decoupling hypothesis). Twenty-five participants performed a visual oddball task, in which they were required to differentiate between a rare target stimulus (to measure task-relevant processes), a rare novel stimulus (to measure distractor processing), and a frequent nontarget stimulus. TUT was measured immediately following task performance using a validated retrospective measure. High levels of TUT were associated with a reduction in cortical processing of task-relevant events and distractor stimuli. These data contradict the suggestion that mind wandering is associated with distraction problems or specific deficits in task-relevant processes. Instead, the data are consistent with the decoupling hypothesis: that TUT dampens the processing of sensory information irrespective of that information's task relevance.
Interest in mindfulness and its enhancement has burgeoned in recent years. In this article, we discuss in detail the nature of mindfulness and its relation to other, established theories of attention and awareness in day-to-day life. We then examine theory and evidence for the role of mindfulness in curtailing negative functioning and enhancing positive outcomes in several important life domains, including mental health, physical health, behavioral regulation, and interpersonal relationships. The processes through which mindfulness is theorized to have its beneficial effects are then discussed, along with proposed directions for theoretical development and empirical research.
In recent studies of the structure of affect, positive and negative affect have consistently emerged as two dominant and relatively independent dimensions. A number of mood scales have been created to measure these factors; however, many existing measures are inadequate, showing low reliability or poor convergent or discriminant validity. To fill the need for reliable and valid Positive Affect and Negative Affect scales that are also brief and easy to administer, we developed two 10-item mood scales that comprise the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS). The scales are shown to be highly internally consistent, largely uncorrelated, and stable at appropriate levels over a 2-month time period. Normative data and factorial and external evidence of convergent and discriminant validity for the scales are also presented. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2010 APA, all rights reserved)
This essay critiques the standard characterization of mindfulness as present-centred non-judgmental awareness, arguing that this account misses some of the central features of mindfulness as described by classical Buddhist accounts, which present mindfulness as being relevant to the past as well as to the present. I show that for these sources the central feature of mindfulness is not its present focus but its capacity to hold its object and thus allow for sustained attention, regardless of whether the object is present or not. I further show that for these sources mindfulness can be explicitly evaluative, thus demonstrating the degree to which classical Buddhist accounts differ from the modern description of mindfulness as non-judgmental. I conclude that although this modern description may be useful as an operational definition intended for practical instruction, it does not provide an adequate basis for a theoretical analysis of mindfulness, for it fails to emphasize its retentive nature to privilege its alleged nonconceptuality.
There has been substantial interest in mindfulness as an approach to reduce cognitive vulnerability to stress and emotional distress in recent years. However, thus far mindfulness has not been defined operationally. This paper describes the results of recent meetings held to establish a consensus on mindfulness and to develop conjointly a testable operational definition. We propose a two-component model of mindfulness and specify each component in terms of specific behaviors, experiential manifestations, and implicated psychological processes. We then address issues regarding temporal stability and situational specificity and speculate on the conceptual and operational distinctiveness of mindfulness. We conclude this paper by discussing implications for instrument development and briefly describing our own approach to measurement.
Mind wandering (i.e. engaging in cognitions unrelated to the current demands of the external environment) reflects the cyclic activity of two core processes: the capacity to disengage attention from perception (known as perceptual decoupling) and the ability to take explicit note of the current contents of consciousness (known as meta-awareness). Research on perceptual decoupling demonstrates that mental events that arise without any external precedent (known as stimulus independent thoughts) often interfere with the online processing of sensory information. Findings regarding meta-awareness reveal that the mind is only intermittently aware of engaging in mind wandering. These basic aspects of mind wandering are considered with respect to the activity of the default network, the role of executive processes, the contributions of meta-awareness and the functionality of mind wandering.