Friday, November 12, 2010

When Your Mind Wanders: Do You Worry That it Won't Come Back?

"People spend 'half their waking hours daydreaming' "
BBC (November 12, 2010)

"People spend nearly half of their waking hours not thinking about what they are actually doing, according to a US study conducted via the iPhone.

"More than 2,200 volunteers downloaded an app which then surveyed them about their thoughts and mood at random times of day and night.

"The Science study suggested minds wander, even from demanding tasks, at least 30% of the time.

"A UK expert said other studies confirmed people are easily distracted.

"The iPhone was a novel research tool for researchers at Harvard University...."

You've probably read about this somewhere else today: the news seems to be pretty big in the English-speaking world.

Here's what probably makes it so interesting. Not the nuts-and-bolts of the test procedures, what comes after that:

"...While their study sample was composed entirely of people who owned the device, and were prepared to download and be disturbed by an app of this kind, the researchers said it provides an insight into how our minds can wander during the day.

"After gathering 250,000 survey results, the Harvard team concluded that this group of people spent 46.9% of their time awake with their minds wandering.

"Dr Matthew Killingsworth, one of the researchers, said: 'Mind-wandering appears ubiquitous across all activities.

" 'This study shows that our mental lives are pervaded, to a remarkable degree, by the non-present.'


"In addition, the survey data on happiness appeared to show a modest connection between the degree of mind-wandering and the level of happiness.

"People who were most distracted away from the task in hand were more likely to report feelings of unhappiness.

"Reports of happiness were most likely among those exercising, having a conversation or making love, whereas unhappiness was reported most while people were resting, working, or using computers.

"Dr Killingsworth said: 'Mind-wandering is an excellent predictor of people's happiness.'..."

Killingsworth could be right. The Lemming's mind wanders quite a bit. And I've been diagnosed with major depression. And my mind wanders. A lot. Which shouldn't be surprising, since more recently I've been diagnosed with ADHD-inattentive.

Four-plus decades of undiagnosed ADHD might have something to do with major depression, or maybe it's the other way around. The Lemming's guess is that both have something to do with each other and could very well have a common cause. Which isn't the same as being part of an American nonprofit outfit that isn't political at all according to them. Sort of, although "nonpartisan" and "apolitical" aren't the same as being a politico.

Oops. The Lemming's mind wandered again. Time to haul in the leash.

Wandering Minds and the BBC

I'll get back to wandering minds and the BBC right after this. I've written about ADHD, major depression, and me in another blog. These posts should give a pretty good background on the subject. (I'm not trying to 'make' you read these posts - like I could. Deciding whether or not to follow these links is strictly up to you.)
As the name of that other blog suggests, I'm one of those people. You have been warned.

Let's see. Mind-wandering research. Happiness. The BBC. An interesting correlation.

Conclusions, Assumptions, and 'More Research!'

In the words of Uncle, in Jackie Chan Adventures, the Lemming thinks Dr. Killingsworth's findings call for "MO-O-ORE RESEARCH!"

For starters, the population studies were folks who had iPhones. That's a good way to stay in touch with folks 24-7, but it also limits - as noted - the study to folks who have decided to get fairly up-to-date information technology. And are willing to participate in a fairly intrusive psych study.

Maybe the results of this test show that folks who are prone to wandering minds are less happy: if they've got iPhones.

Or that folks who own information technology are more likely to be happy, if they're the sort whose minds plod along in the same rut, day in and day out, no matter what opportunities for other experiences are available.

There have been times when the Lemming could have used that tendency to focus exclusively on whatever's in front of a person's head at the moment. It helps when studying for tests, or chopping beets. The Lemming had a job chopping beets, once. I wasn't very good at the job - and have a scar to prove it.

Back to that research - which the Lemming thinks calls for more research.

It's interesting - but hardly, in my opinion, conclusive. It's like Uncle said.

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