Self-reflection and the temporal focus of the wandering mind

Jonathan Smallwood*, Jonathan W. Schooler, David J. Turk, Sheila J. Cunningham, Phebe Burns, C. Neil Macrae

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

142 Citations (Scopus)


Current accounts suggest that self-referential thought serves a pivotal function in the human ability to simulate the future during mind-wandering. Using experience sampling, this hypothesis was tested in two studies that explored the extent to which self-reflection impacts both retrospection and prospection during mind-wandering. Study 1 demonstrated that a brief period of self-reflection yielded a prospective bias during mind-wandering such that participants' engaged more frequently in spontaneous future than past thought. In Study 2, individual differences in the strength of self-referential thought as indexed by the memorial advantage for self rather than other-encoded items - was shown to vary with future thinking during mind-wandering. Together these results confirm that self-reflection is a core component of future thinking during mind-wandering and provide novel evidence that a key function of the autobiographical memory system may be to mentally simulate events in the future.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1120-1126
Number of pages7
JournalConsciousness and Cognition
Issue number4
Early online date31 Jan 2011
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2011


  • Autobiographical memory
  • Daydreaming
  • Self
  • Mental time travel
  • Prospective thought
  • Stimulus independent thought
  • Task unrelated thought
  • Mind-wandering


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