When Your Mind Wanders

How often does your mind wander in an average day?  Be honest.

It's certainly something that we all do, especially when we're bored or tired. Also known as "task-unrelated thought", mind wandering (link is external) involves the decoupling of our thoughts from whatever we happen to be doing at the time.  Though usually harmless, mind wandering can become potentially lethal if it causes to stop paying attention at a critical moment, such as when we are driving or operating heavy machinery.   Pierre Curie, husband of Marie, was killed in a street accident when he was struck by a horse-drawn cart.  Family members later speculated that he hadn't been watching for traffic because of his mind wandering, a frequent problem for the brilliant scientist.   Not surprisingly, mind wandering has been shown by researchers to be linked to automobile accidents and general road safety (link is external). 

But why do our minds wander?  And what do we think about when we are unable to concentrate on what we are doing?  Research into mind wandering suggests that it isn't quite the time waster that people often believe it to be.  In fact, some researchers suggest that mind wandering may have evolved as a way of helping us handle monotonous tasks more effectively. 

To read more, check out my new Psychology Today blog post. 


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