Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology

Wandering in Both Mind and Body: Individual Differences in Mind Wandering and Inattention Predict Fidgeting

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology

Wandering in Both Mind and Body: Individual Differences in Mind Wandering and Inattention Predict Fidgeting

Article excerpt

Anecdotal reports suggest that during periods of inattention or mind wandering, people tend to experience increased fidgeting. In four studies, we examined whether individual differences in the tendency to be inattentive and to mind wander in everyday life are related to the tendency to make spontaneous and involuntary movements (i.e., to fidget). To do so, we developed self-report measures of spontaneous and deliberate mind wandering, as well as a self-report scale to index fidgeting. In addition, we used several existing self-report measures of inattentiveness, attentional control, and memory failures. Across our studies, a series of multiple regression analyses indicated that fidgeting was uniquely predicted by inattentiveness and spontaneous mind wandering but not by other related factors, including deliberate mind wandering, attentional control, and memory failures. As a result, we suggest that only spontaneously wandering thoughts are related to a wandering body.

Keywords: inattention, mind wandering, fidgeting, attentional control

"Concentration of consciousness, and concentration of movements, diffusion of ideas and diffusion of movements go together."

Ribot (1890, p. 24)

As highlighted in the epigraph, the importance of the embodiment of the mind was evident in the writings of the founders of our field. Accordingly, the present research was motivated by a number of early, primarily anecdotal, reports suggesting an important link between the maintenance of attention and the movement of the body. Ribot (1890), for example, remarked that "the fundamental role of the movements in attention, is to maintain the appropriate state of consciousness and to reinforce it" (p. 25). In this quote, Ribot argues that the activity of the mind and the activity of the body are importantly and inextricably linked, foreshadowing the more recent focus on embodied cognition (e.g., Anderson, 2003; Clark, 1999; Wilson, 2002). Ribot' s observation can also be interpreted in the context of recent interests on attention lapses (Cheyne, Carriere, & Smilek, 2006; Seli, Cheyne, & Smilek, 2012; Smilek, Carriere, & Cheyne, 2010) and mind wandering (Giambra, 1995; Small wood, Beach, Schooler, & Handy, 2008; Small wood, Fishman, & Schooler, 2007; Smallwood & Schooler, 2006). Restating Ribot' s observation in terms of these recent interests, then, we could say that if one is trying to concentrate attention to prevent attention lapses and mind wandering from occurring, then the movement of the body would likely appear to become similarly concentrated. In contrast, if attention has lapsed, as when our minds wander, then the movement of the body would likely be spontaneous and less controlled. In the present article, we hope to recover the more embodied beginnings of attention, and explore the fundamental link between attention and fidgeting.

"Fidgeting" is a familiar term, and we likely all know at least one person who we would describe as a "fidgeter." Yet, aside from a few exceptions (Mehrabian & Friedman, 1986; Sechrest & Flores, 1971; Smith & Narayan, 2008), it is a topic that has received relatively little study in psychology. Although little has been recently done on this topic, the observation of a link between cognitive experience and fidgeting is not entirely new. In support of his own claim that the activity of the mind and body are linked, Ribot (1890) raised as an example the recent, to him, efforts by Galton to assess attentiveness through fidgeting behaviour amongst the audience members at a long and tedious lecture (which recent research has indicated dramatically increases the probability of mind wandering; Risko, Anderson, Sarwal, Engelhardt, & Kingstone, 2012). Galton described these efforts in The Measure of Fidget (1885):

When the audience is intent each person forgets his muscular weariness and skin discomfort, and he holds himself rigidly in the best position for seeing and hearing. …

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