Multimodal investigation of mind wandering and attention lapses

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Godwin, Christine A.
Schumacher, Eric H.
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The neuroscience of mind wandering has advanced appreciably over the past decade. By applying convergent methods that span self-reports, behavioral indexes, and neuroimaging, researchers have been able to gain an understanding of how the brain supports ongoing mentation that is unrelated to other tasks at hand. However, despite the complex processes that attention lapses can take, research in this field has often focused on simply dichotomizing mind wandering as either on-task or off-task. Furthermore, repeated use of tasks such as the sustained attention to response task (SART) to study mind wandering has constrained research and hampered generalizability. The current work addresses these issues by presenting a novel series of thought prompts that query several attention states and dynamics as participants perform the metronome response task (Seli et al., 2013). In Study 1, simultaneous recording of behavioral performance, fMRI, and pupil diameter allowed for a multimodal investigation of the neural correlates of attention lapses. In Study 2, task difficulty was manipulated in order to test the effect of cognitive load on attention lapses and performance. Results indicated unique behavioral and neural profiles for several attention states and found subtle but consistent differences between self-reported attention state and performance variability. In addition, cognitive load modulated task performance and, to a lesser extent, the frequency of dynamic states (e.g., spontaneous versus constrained attention) in manners consistent with previous theorizing (e.g., the context regulation hypothesis). However, not all measures dissociated across attention states. The results are discussed from the perspectives of mind wandering theories and frameworks, the function of the default mode network, and the importance of task context in the study of attention lapses.
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