The wandering self: Tracking distracting self-generated thought in a cognitively demanding context

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We investigated how self-referential processing (SRP) affected self-generated thought in a complex working memory task (CWM) to test the predictions of a computational cognitive model. This model described self-generated thought as resulting from competition between task- and distracting processes, and predicted that self-generated thought interferes with rehearsal, reducing memory performance. SRP was hypothesized to influence this goal competition process by encouraging distracting self-generated thinking. We used a spatial CWM task to examine if SRP instigated such thoughts, and employed eye-tracking to examine rehearsal interference in eye-movement and self-generated thinking in pupil size. The results showed that SRP was associated with lower performance and higher rates of self-generated thought. Self-generated thought was associated with less rehearsal and we observed a smaller pupil size for mind wandering. We conclude that SRP can instigate self-generated thought and that goal competition provides a likely explanation for how self-generated thoughts arises in a demanding task.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)170-185
JournalConsciousness and Cognition
Early online date22-Dec-2017
Publication statusPublished - Feb-2018


  • Journal Article

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