Friday, November 2, 2018

Recent claims that people spend 40-50% of their waking lives mind wandering have become widely accepted & frequently cited; such simple quantitative estimates are misleading & potentially meaningless without serious qualification

Seli, Paul, Roger E. Beaty, James A. Cheyne, Daniel Smilek, and Daniel L. Schacter. 2018. “How Pervasive Is Mind Wandering, Really?.” PsyArXiv. February 26. doi:10.31234/osf.io/9pruj

Abstract: Recent claims that people spend 40-50% of their waking lives mind wandering (MW) (Killingsworth & Gilbert, 2010; Kane et al. 2007) have become widely accepted and frequently cited. While acknowledging attention to be inconstant and wavering, and MW to be ubiquitous, we argue and present evidence that such simple quantitative estimates are misleading and potentially meaningless without serious qualification. MW estimates requiring dichotomous judgments of inner experience rely on questionable assumptions about how such judgments are made and the resulting data do not permit straightforward interpretations. We present evidence that estimates of daily-life MW vary dramatically depending on response options provided. Offering participants a range of options in estimating task engagement yielded variable MW estimates, from approximately 60% to 10%, depending on assumptions made about how observers make introspective judgments about their MW experiences and how they understand what it means to be on- or off-task.