The influence of time on task on mind wandering and visual working memory

Marissa Krimsky, Daniel E. Forster, Maria M. Llabre, Amishi P. Jha

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Working memory relies on executive resources for successful task performance, with higher demands necessitating greater resource engagement. In addition to mnemonic demands, prior studies suggest that internal sources of distraction, such as mind wandering (i.e., having off-task thoughts) and greater time on task, may tax executive resources. Herein, the consequences of mnemonic demand, mind wandering, and time on task were investigated during a visual working memory task. Participants (N = 143) completed a delayed-recognition visual working memory task, with mnemonic load for visual objects manipulated across trials (1 item = low load; 2 items = high load) and subjective mind wandering assessed intermittently throughout the experiment using a self-report Likert-type scale (1 = on-task, 6 = off-task). Task performance (correct/incorrect response) and self-reported mind wandering data were evaluated by hierarchical linear modeling to track trial-by-trial fluctuations. Performance declined with greater time on task, and the rate of decline was steeper for high vs low load trials. Self-reported mind wandering increased over time, and significantly varied as a function of both load and time on task. Participants reported greater mind wandering at the beginning of the experiment for low vs. high load trials; however, with greater time on task, more mind wandering was reported during high vs. low load trials. These results suggest that the availability of executive resources in support of working memory maintenance processes fluctuates in a demand-sensitive manner with time on task, and may be commandeered by mind wandering.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)84-90
Number of pages7
StatePublished - Dec 2017


  • Attention
  • Delayed recognition
  • Executive resources
  • Mind wandering
  • Time-on-task
  • Working memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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