Is your mind on something else? You’re not alone (or at all abnormal, study finds)

CBS News reports:

People spend 47 percent of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they are doing.

And as far as our emotional state is concerned, that’s not a good thing.

“A human mind is a wandering mind, and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind,” concluded Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert, the authors of the study, which was published in the Nov. 12 issue of “Science.” “The ability to think about what is not happening is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emotional cost…”

Just what sorts of places does the mind wander? Reminiscing (and ruing) past events, looking forward to (or fearing) things that might happen in the future.

Killingsworth and Gilbert based their findings on 250,000 data points on the thoughts, feelings, and actions of 2,250 people as they went about their daily lives – all collected via an iPhone app, according to a written statement. The app contacted the people at random intervals, asking how happy they felt, what they were doing, and whether they were thinking about what they were doing – or something else.


The article is available here from the journal Science (subscription required). In a remarkably short abstract, the authors summarize their study:

We developed a smartphone technology to sample people’s ongoing thoughts, feelings, and actions and found (i) that people are thinking about what is not happening almost as often as they are thinking about what is and (ii) found that doing so typically makes them unhappy.


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