U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Educational Science. (2011-2016) Mind-wandering During Reading


The proposed studies build on prior OERI supported research to investigate the methodological, theoretical, and pedagogical issues surrounding a major neglected source of reading comprehension failure: mind wandering.

The studies in Section 1 will refine our theoretical and methodological understanding of mind-wandering. Theoretically, these studies will identify the relative contribution of meta-cognitive monitoring and control in modulating the impact of mind- wandering. They will also enable an assessment of the time course of mind-wandering and the relative contribution of executive, inhibitory, and meta-cognitive processes that may make individuals differentially vulnerable to mind-wandering. Methodologically, these studies will examine the relationship between various behavioral indices that we have found to be predictive of self-reported mind-wandering during reading: eye movements, word-by-word response rate, and changes in psychophysiology. After refining these measurement techniques we will use them together to determine the behavioral/psychophysiological signature of mind-wandering. Using the collective set of measures as a template we will then develop a computer based reading program that uses response times to detect when readers are mind-wandering.

The studies in Section 2 will build on these methodological and theoretical advances in order to explore the malleability of mind-wandering in college students. Three promising approaches for minimizing the negative impact of mind-wandering will be examined: 1) The development of a computerized tutor that uses feedback derived from indirect behavioral indices of mind-wandering to foster individuals’ sensitivity to mind-wandering episodes. 2) Examination of the efficacy of the use of simple if-then contingencies (implementation intentions) to enable students to invoke meta-cognitive strategies for avoiding mind-wandering at the times at which they are most needed. 3) Investigation of the impact of mindfulness training, introduced through a computer based tutor, to enhance students’ ability to remain undistracted and aware of their mental states, thereby preventing their minds from wandering while reading.

The studies in section 3 will explore the impact of mind-wandering on the reading comprehension of middle and high school students and examine the degree to which this trait is malleable as revealed by the effectiveness of a mindfulness based training course and other training techniques developed in the course of this research.

Together the proposed studies will provide a solid foundation for studying, understanding and correcting a fundamental but largely neglected source of comprehension failure. In so doing, this research will also offer important insights for studying on-line reading, for understanding meta-cognitive awareness, and for developing instructional approaches that maximize understanding.