Captivated by thought: "Sticky" thinking leaves traces of perceptual decoupling in task-evoked pupil size

Stefan Huijser*, Mathanja Verkaik, Marieke K. van Vugt, Niels A Taatgen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Abstract

Throughout the day, we may sometimes catch ourselves in patterns of thought that we experience as rigid and difficult to disengage from. Such "sticky" thinking can be highly disruptive to ongoing tasks, and when it turns into rumination constitutes a vulnerability for mental disorders such as depression and anxiety. The main goal of the present study was to explore the stickiness dimension of thought, by investigating how stickiness is reflected in task performance and pupil size. To measure spontaneous thought processes, we asked participants to perform a sustained attention to response task (SART), in which we embedded the participant's concerns to potentially increase the probability of observing sticky thinking. The results indicated that sticky thinking was most frequently experienced when participants were disengaged from the task. Such episodes of sticky thought could be discriminated from neutral and non-sticky thought by an increase in errors on infrequent no-go trials. Furthermore, we found that sticky thought was associated with smaller pupil responses during correct responding. These results demonstrate that participants can report on the stickiness of their thought, and that stickiness can be investigated using pupillometry. In addition, the results suggest that sticky thought may limit attention and exertion of cognitive control to the task.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0243532
Number of pages28
JournalPLoS ONE
Volume15
Issue number12
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 9-Dec-2020

Keywords

  • SUSTAINED ATTENTION
  • ADAPTIVE GAIN
  • MIND
  • RUMINATION
  • DILATION
  • MODEL
  • ACTIVATION
  • FLUCTUATIONS
  • METAANALYSIS
  • REFLECTION

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