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Dynamics and monitoring of mind-wandering

Abstract : Humans’ conscious experience is always changing: now seeing, now remembering, now planning. Yet, how people notice the unfolding of their own thoughts remains unclear. The present thesis studied the dynamics and introspective monitoring of thoughts, by capitalizing on the salient and often unnoticed phenomenon of mind-wandering (Chapter 1). Mind-wandering is the rise of thoughts about personal concerns. Against the idea that this rise is unpredictable, I first describe the characteristics of slow rhythms that predict mind-wandering occurrences during goal-directed tasks (Ch. 2, 3). Interestingly, these dynamics may determine thought content and introspection. Indeed, patients with Attention deficits (ADHD), who would likely experience alterations in both the dynamics and introspection of mind-wandering, report more “empty thoughts” (Ch. 4). Also, two experiments and a study using smartphones suggest that inner speech facilitates awareness of mind-wandering (Ch. 5). Inner speech contributes to monitoring capacities, thus verbal thoughts could be better sustained in time, increasing their vividness. Finally, I suggest that the detection of inner thoughts is not a direct access to clear-cut elements, but rather an adjustable decision mechanism applied to internal continuous and dynamic variables, similar to what happens in perception (Ch. 6). In sum, these studies shed a new light on human’s introspection and confirm old insights (Ch. 7). Indeed, they provide empirical support to a philosophical claim made 125 years ago by William James, one of the fathers of scientific psychology: we experience a continuous stream of thought, and detecting mind-wandering may depend on these dynamics.
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Mikaël Bastian. Dynamics and monitoring of mind-wandering. Psychology. Ecole normale supérieure - ENS PARIS, 2015. English. ⟨NNT : 2015ENSU0022⟩. ⟨tel-01764930⟩

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