60-Second Mind

Mind Wandering Is Linked to Your Working Memory

A new study has found a strong correlation between how much your mind wanders and your working memory capacity. Christie Nicholson reports

Think you can stay focused on this podcast for the next 60 seconds?

Well that depends on how much working memory you have, according to a new study in the journal Psychological Science (pdf).

Working memory is our ability to hold onto information for a short period of time, like keeping a phone number in mind while you search for your cell phone.

Now a study finds that your capacity for working memory is directly related to how often your mind wanders.

Scientists had subjects press a button when they saw a letter appear on a computer screen. Periodically during this task the researchers would ask the subjects whether they were actively focusing on the task or if they were thinking about something else.

The researchers also measured each subject’s working memory capacity, by testing the ability to remember a series of letters interspersed with basic math problems.  

It turns out that those with a larger working memory capacity reported more distraction during the task. Indicating that our working memory strives to work at capacity. Such subjects had greater focus when tested with more complicated tasks.

Well, the minute is up. So, did you stay focused?

—Christie Nicholson

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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