Circadian Fluctuations in Mind-wandering: The Temporal Orientation and the Affective Tone of Thoughts


  • Miha Likar University of Ljubljana
  • Bernadett Becz Eötvös Loránd University
  • Péter Simor Eötvös Loránd University


Mind-wandering - our thoughts drifting from “here and now” to other mental contents is experienced in 25-50% of our waking life [1]. Despite recent conceptual conflicts, this mental process is commonly characterized by dimensions of task-unrelatedness and stimulus-independency and has various impacts on one’s cognitive performance. While it impairs reaction times during task performances, comprehension during reading and lectures, it has also been suggested that it might enhance creativity and is beneficial for problem-solving [1]. A growing body of work has recently utilised experience sampling methods to acquire a better insight into the phenomenological aspects of mind-wandering [2]. Despite this, the rate of mind-wandering was thus far implicitly assumed to be constant throughout the day, but recent research has shown that both circadian functioning and an individual's chronotype have an impact on this rate [2]. Besides contributing to the evidence of these influencing factors, the primary aim of our study is to investigate the potential relationship between circadian functioning and the temporal orientation of mind-wandering thoughts, namely retrospection, prospection, or direction towards the present, as well as the affective tone of these thoughts.

100 participants of legal age, sampled from the university research pool will be included in the experience sampling process. Throughout 10 days, they will receive 10 notifications a day at random time points, sent through a mobile application, starting at their waking time, and finishing at the bedtime. On each sampling occasion, they will have to fill out a short questionnaire, answering questions about general aspects of their potential mind-wandering episode, temporal orientation of a mind-wandering episode, valence of their thoughts and the subjective quality of their sleep.

Statistical analysis will be performed by utilising mixed linear models with data nested within each participant. We hypothesise that the influence of circadian functioning will result in an increased relative ratio of future oriented thoughts in the morning. We additionally expect to observe the influence of circadian functioning and chronotype on the rate of mind-wandering itself, more precisely a greater rate in the morning for evening types and greater rate in the evening for morning types.


[1] J. Smallwood and J. W. Schooler, “The Science of Mind Wandering: Empirically navigating the stream of consciousness,” Annual Review of Psychology, vol. 66, no. 1, pp. 487–518, 2015. 

[2] G. K. Smith, C. Mills, A. Paxton, and K. Christoff, “Mind-wandering rates fluctuate across the day: Evidence from an experience-sampling study,” Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications, vol. 3, no. 1, 2018.