Is an off-task mind a freely-moving mind? Examining the relationship between different dimensions of thought

Caitlin Mills, Quentin Raffaelli, Zachary C. Irving, Dylan Stan, Kalina Christoff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

72 Scopus citations


Mind wandering is frequently defined as task-unrelated or perceptually decoupled thought. However, these definitions may not capture the dynamic features of a wandering mind, such as its tendency to ‘move freely’. Here we test the relationship between three theoretically dissociable dimensions of thought: freedom of movement in thought, task-relatedness, and perceptual decoupling (i.e., lack of awareness of surroundings). Using everyday life experience sampling, thought probes were randomly delivered to participants’ phones for ten days. Results revealed weak intra-individual correlations between freedom of movement in thought and task-unrelatedness, as well as perceptual decoupling. Within our dataset, over 40% of thoughts would have been misclassified under the assumption that off-task thought is inherently freely moving. Overall, freedom of movement appears to be an independent dimension of thought that is not captured by the two most common measures of mind wandering. Future work focusing on the dynamics of thought may be crucial for improving our understanding of the wandering mind.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)20-33
Number of pages14
JournalConsciousness and Cognition
StatePublished - Feb 2018
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by NSERC (RGPIN 327317-11) and CIHR (MOP-115197) grants to K.C. Any opinions, findings and conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this paper are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of NSERC or CIHR.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Elsevier Inc.


  • Experience sampling
  • Freely-moving thought
  • Mind wandering
  • Perceptual decoupling
  • Task-unrelated thought
  • Thought dynamics


Dive into the research topics of 'Is an off-task mind a freely-moving mind? Examining the relationship between different dimensions of thought'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this