Mind Wandering in Daily Life: A National Experience Sampling Study of Intentional and Unintentional Mind Wandering Episodes Reported by Working Adults Ages 25 – 50
Paula Lowe, Ph.D. is a 2023 graduate of the PHD Program in Leadership and Change at Antioch University.
Paula at her Dissertation Defense.
From L-R: Carol Baron, Committee Member, Dr. Claire Zedelius, Committee Member, Dr. Donna Ladkin, Committee Chair.
- Donna Ladkin, Ph.D., Committee Chair
- Carol Baron, Ph.D., Committee Member
- Claire Zedelius, Ph.D., Committee Member
mind wandering, off-task thinking, mind wandering intentionality, thought type, thought content, temporality, context demand, emotion, leadership, intrapersonal psychology, neuropsychology, productivity, boundary theory, working parent, nonparent worker, atelicity, kin care, creative thinking, experience sampling, participant level data analysis
Numerous researchers have investigated thinking that drifts away from what the individual was doing, thinking that is known as mind wandering. Their inquiries were often conducted in university lab settings with student participants. To learn about mind wandering in the daily life of working adults, this experience sampling study investigated intentional and unintentional mind wandering episodes as reported by working adults, ages 25–50, living across the United States. In this age frame, work and family responsibilities have increased in complexity and overlap. Using a smartphone app, participants were randomly notified to answer experience sampling surveys six times a day for up to five days. Eight questions concerned frequency, intentionality, and the descriptive characteristics of thought type, thought content, temporality, context, context demand, and emotion. Based upon 7,947 notification responses and 4,294 reported mind wandering episodes, the research findings showed that mind wandering is a common thinking experience in working adult daily life and is differentiated by intentionality, parent status, and gender. Parents reported more frequent mind wandering and intentional mind wandering episodes than nonparents. Episode thought type was most often indicated as practical thought. Episodes were more often reported as having the content related to context although out of context mind wandering episodes were also highly reported. Context demand and emotion at the time of the notification were related to mind wandering episode frequency and were further differentiated by intentionality, parent status, and gender. Working parents reported mind wandering episodes during higher demand, particularly male parents, than nonparents. By generating new knowledge about the thinking life of working adults, this study’s results and methodology contribute to the fields of leadership and change, thought research, intrapersonal and interpersonal psychology, work and family studies, and education. Future studies focused on underlying factors related to the mind wandering of working adults and the differences between parent and nonparent mind wandering may inform our understanding of working adult mind wandering. This dissertation is available in open access at AURA, https://aura.antioch.edu/, and OhioLINK ETD Center, https://etd.ohiolink.edu.
Lowe, P. C. (2023). Mind Wandering in Daily Life: A National Experience Sampling Study of Intentional and Unintentional Mind Wandering Episodes Reported by Working Adults Ages 25 – 50. https://aura.antioch.edu/etds/915
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Paula C. Lowe
ORCID Scholar ID #: #0000-0001-6888-2933
Dr. Paula C. Lowe experiences mind wandering to be a vital part of her creative work in educational psychology and leadership and change as well as her story telling as an artist and poet. Truth be told, she mind wanders often. When stuck on solutions that don’t fit, she lets thoughts pop up. When in the early stages of writing, she intentionally begins with a blank page and maybe there comes a character wearing a red backpack. She remembers doing this in grade school, looking out the window to the corn fields, watching a farmer start up his tractor. Across decades as a professional in educational psychology, she has found schools, workplaces, even families have held discouraging biases about off-task thinking, even considering those who mind wander as evidencing attention deficit. Lowe conducted her research to inform this bias, studying this thought process and learning about its importance to individuals as well as leaders. Her inquiry confirmed that mind wandering is a common type of thinking working adults do and connects us to people, ideas, and events in places and temporality beyond the moment we are in. As said aptly by J. R. R. Tolkien, “not all those who wander are lost.” Lowe believes we cannot teach or learn or work or lead without recognizing and incorporating the realities of off-task thought that she found occurred one out of every two times when a participant was randomly asked, “are you mind wandering right now.” Her findings support that mind wandering is a valuable and co-existent thought process that cannot be extracted from an individual’s daily life.
Dr. Lowe has been helping others for many years. She consulted, developed learning programs, and conducted research for various constituencies, i.e., Head Start, military, at-risk, working families, urban and rural schools, corporations, universities, and more. Her book on parents helping parents, CarePooling, reached a national audience and served army communities stationed in Europe. Lowe’s educational programs include Parenting For Education, Choicercises, HomeWorks, Here’s Looking At You Two. She has trained thousands of people in multi-day settings, directed educational curricula evaluations, served as a family therapist, and taught art to every age, always with a passion for helping individuals appreciate themselves and their potential.
Lowe’s next book, Those Thoughts: Mind Wandering in Daily Life, aims to help others learn about their mind wandering. She continues to publish poems in an assortment of literary journals and anthologies including The Iowa Review, River Styx, Poet Lore, Crosswinds, burntdistrict and many more. Six of her poems have been selected as finalists for poetry awards. Her book MOO (2014) was a finalist for the 2015 International Book Award in poetry. Lowe’s contributions include serving as a small press publisher and on boards of directors such as the TEACH Foundation and San Luis Obispo County Library Foundation.
Earning her PhD in Leadership and Change from Antioch University, Yellow Springs, OH, Dr. Lowe also holds two master’s degrees, the first in Educational Psychology from the University of Washington and the second in Leadership and Change from Antioch University. She attained her undergraduate degree in art education and art history at Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois. Lowe studied graduate poetry at the University of Iowa and completed the story development credential at the University of Washington.