The Costs and Benefits of Mind-Wandering: A Review

TitleThe Costs and Benefits of Mind-Wandering: A Review
Publication TypeJournal Article
AuthorsMooneyham, BW, Schooler, JW
JournalCanadian Journal of Experimental Psychology

Substantial evidence suggests that mind-wandering typically occurs at a significant cost to performance. Mind-wandering–related deficits in performance have been observed in many contexts, most notably reading, tests of sustained attention, and tests of aptitude. Mind-wandering has been shown to negatively impact reading comprehension and model building, impair the ability to withhold automatized responses, and disrupt performance on tests of working memory and intelligence. These empirically identified costs of mind-wandering have led to the suggestion that mind-wandering may represent a pure failure of cognitive control and thus pose little benefit. However, emerging evidence suggests that the role of mind-wandering is not entirely pernicious. Recent studies have shown that mind-wandering may play a crucial role in both autobiographical planning and creative problem solving, thus providing at least two possible adaptive functions of the phenomenon. This article reviews these observed costs and possible functions of mind-wandering and identifies important avenues of future inquiry.