Experience sampling of the degree of mind wandering distinguishes hidden attentional states

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3 Scopus citations


Experience sampling of attentional states has consistently demonstrated that mind wandering is a frequent and disruptive obstacle when one must sustain attention during continuous task performance. Yet, methods commonly used to assess the subjective experience of mind wandering may conflate several potential sources of meaningful variation in individuals' degree of task engagement. In the present study, we examined evidence for distinct and identifiable patterns in subjective reports of the degree of task-related attentional focus during a sustained attention task in a large sample of adults (N = 537). Experience sampling probes embedded in the task assessed task-related focus using a continuum of response ratings ranging from 1 (on-task) to 6 (off-task). Participants used a range of probe response options in categorizing their current attentional state, and the continuum of probe ratings differentiated patterns of behavioral performance in the moments preceding probes. Markov-chain modeling of the categorical time series sequence of probe ratings further revealed distinct and behaviorally relevant hidden states underlying probe rating behavior. We replicated these findings in two additional independent data sets. Collectively, these findings suggest that three or more hidden attentional states best account for subjective ratings of task-related focus. The implications of these findings for models of sustained attention and mind wandering are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number104380
StatePublished - Dec 2020


  • Attention
  • Experience sampling
  • Hidden Markov model
  • Mind wandering
  • Task-unrelated thought

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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