Eye Blinking as Indicator and Embodiment of Mind Wandering
Abstract (via Daniel Smilek, Jonathan S.A. Carriere, and J. Allan Cheyne)
Mind wandering, in which cognitive processing of the external environment decreases in favor of internal processing (Smallwood & Schooler, 2006), has been consistently associated with errors on tasks requiring sustained attention and continuous stimulus monitoring (e.g., Cheyne, Carriere, & Smilek, 2006; Robertson, Manly, Andrade, Baddeley, & Yiend, 1997; Smallwood et al., 2004). Consistent with this finding, recent neuroimaging studies suggest that mind wandering engages the default neural network (Christoff, Gordon, Smallwood, Smith, & Schooler, 2009; Mason et al., 2007; Smallwood, Beach, Schooler, & Handy, 2008; Weissman, Roberts, Visscher, & Woldorff, 2006) and is associated with decreased neural analysis of incoming information (Christoff et al., 2009; Smallwood, Beach, et al., 2008; Weissman et al., 2006). Here, we propose that mind wandering also involves overt embodied components whereby external input is blocked at the sensory endings. We demonstrate that during an extended period of reading, episodes of mind wandering, compared with on-task periods, contain more eye closures (blinks) and fewer fixations on the text―even as subjects continue to scan the text.