The Science of Mind Wandering: Empirically Navigating the Stream of Consciousness

Jonathan Smallwood, Jonathan W. Schooler
  • Annual Review of Psychology, January 2015, Annual Reviews
  • DOI: 10.1146/annurev-psych-010814-015331

What is it about?

Conscious experience is fluid; it rarely remains on one topic for an extended period without deviation. Its dynamic nature is illustrated by the experience of mind wandering, in which attention switches from a current task to unrelated thoughts and feelings. This complex state of the mind is potentially useful to creativity and future planning.

Why is it important?

Understanding the content of mind wandering can help us understand when mind wandering may actually provide benefits and how we may minimize certain disadvantages. Mind wandering involves a complex balance of costs and benefits: Its association with various kinds of error underlines its cost, whereas its relationship to creativity and future planning suggest its potential value. Although essential to the stream of consciousness, various strategies may minimize the downsides of mind wandering while maintaining its productive aspects.

The following have contributed to this page: Dr Jonathan W Schooler