The Eye-Mind Wandering Link: Identifying Gaze Indices of Mind Wandering Across Tasks

Myrthe Faber, Kristina Krasich, Robert E. Bixler, James R. Brockmole, Sidney K. D'Mello

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

39 Citations (Scopus)


During mind wandering, visual processing of external information is attenuated. Accordingly, mind wandering is associated with changes in gaze behaviors, albeit findings are inconsistent in the literature. This heterogeneity obfuscates a complete view of the moment-to-moment processing priorities of the visual system during mind wandering. We hypothesize that this observed heterogeneity is an effect of idiosyncrasy across tasks with varying spatial allocation demands, visual processing demands, and discourse processing demands and reflects a strategic, compensatory shift in how the visual system operates during mind wandering. We recorded eye movements and mind wandering (via thought-probes) as 132 college-aged adults completed a battery of 7 short (6 min) tasks with different visual demands. We found that for tasks requiring extensive sampling of the visual field, there were fewer fixations, and, depending on the specific task, fixations were longer and/or more dispersed. This suggests that visual sampling is sparser and potentially slower and more dispersed to compensate for the decreased sampling rate during mind wandering. For tasks that demand centrally focused gaze, mind wandering was accompanied by more exploratory eye movements, such as shorter and more dispersed fixations as well as larger saccades. Gaze behaviors were not reliably associated with mind wandering during a film comprehension task. These findings provide insight into how the visual system prioritizes external information when attention is focused inward and indicates the importance of task demands when assessing the relationship between eye movements, visual processing, and mind wandering.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1201-1221
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • cognitive processing
  • eye movements
  • mind wandering
  • visual processing


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