This article presents a cognitive model of distraction and mind-wandering that combines and formalizes several existing theories. It assumes that task-related goals and opportunities for distraction are continuously in competition for mental resources. If the task-related goal does not need a particular resource at a particular moment, the likelihood that it is captured by a distraction is high. We applied this model to explain the results of three distraction experiments that differ from each other in a number of ways. The first experiment is a slow-paced mind-wandering study; the main result is that less mind-wandering occurs if subjects have to maintain an item in working memory. The second experiment is a working memory task in which mind-wandering is triggered by the presence of self-referential words in a secondary task; these words increase mental elaboration and reduce memory performance. The third experiment is a mental arithmetic/ memory/visual attention task, in which subjects became more distracted by a flanking (irrelevant) video as the task increased in complexity: as subjects need more time to think, they leave the visual resource vulnerable to distraction. Although these phenomena have been treated separately in the literature, we show that these phenomena can be explained by a single comprehensive model that is based on the assumption that distractions target unused cognitive resources.
- Cognitive modeling