Back to the future: Autobiographical planning and the functionality of mind-wandering

TitleBack to the future: Autobiographical planning and the functionality of mind-wandering
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2011
AuthorsBaird B, Smallwood J, Schooler JW
JournalConsciousness and Cognition
Pagination1604 - 1611
Date Published12/2011
ISBN Number1053-8100
KeywordsAutobiographical planning, Experience sampling, Future, mind-wandering, Prospection, Self-reference, Task unrelated thought, Working memory capacity

Given that as much as half of human thought arises in a stimulus independent fashion, it would seem unlikely that such thoughts would play no functional role in our lives. How- ever, evidence linking the mind-wandering state to performance decrement has led to the notion that mind-wandering primarily represents a form of cognitive failure. Based on previous work showing a prospective bias to mind-wandering, the current study explores the hypothesis that one potential function of spontaneous thought is to plan and anticipate personally relevant future goals, a process referred to as autobiographical planning. The results confirm that the content of mind-wandering is predominantly future-focused, demonstrate that individuals with high working memory capacity are more likely to engage in prospective mind-wandering, and show that prospective mind- wandering frequently involves autobiographical planning. Together this evidence suggests that mind-wandering can enable prospective cognitive operations that are likely to be use- ful to the individual as they navigate through their daily lives.