Differential recruitment of executive resources during mind wandering

Consciousness and Cognition 26:51-63 (2014)

Abstract

Recent research has shown that mind wandering recruits executive resources away from the external task towards inner thoughts. No studies however have determined whether executive functions are drawn away in a unitary manner during mind wandering episodes, or whether there is variation in specific functions impacted. Accordingly, we examined whether mind wandering differentially modulates three core executive functions—response inhibition, updating of working memory, and mental set shifting. In three experiments, participants performed one of these three executive function tasks and reported their attentional state as either on-task or mind wandering at random intervals. We found that mind wandering led to poorer performance in the response inhibition and working memory tasks, but not the set-shifting task. These findings suggest that mind wandering does not recruit executive functions in a monolithic manner. Rather, it appears to selectively engage certain executive functions, which may reflect the adaptive maintenance of ongoing task performance

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