Mind-Wandering and Mood Repair: The Role of Off-Task Thought in the Sustainment of Negative Mood
Wing, Erik Knight
University of Kansas
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Objectives: Mind-wandering, defined as a mental state encompassing task-unrelated and self-generated thought, is a ubiquitous cognitive phenomenon. Previous research has found a robust association between mind-wandering episodes and concurrent negative mood, such that increases in negative affect are predicted by increases in both mind-wandering frequency as well as off-task thought content focused on negative, past events. However, less is known about the function of mind-wandering among individuals who have already entered a negative mood state, or the role of mind-wandering in sustaining previously generated negative mood. Accordingly, the primary purpose of the present work was to investigate the relationship between mind-wandering (i.e., the frequency and content of off-task thought) and mood repair (i.e., change in negative affect over time) following the induction of a negative mood state. Methods: Sixty-seven participants underwent a negative mood challenge during which a personal, negative event from their past was remembered while listening to negatively-toned music. Participants then completed a choice reaction time task that was low in cognitive demand. Intermittently during the task, thought probes prompted participants to report on the occurrence of off-task thoughts and the content thereof, along with their current levels of positive and negative affect. Participants additionally completed the Beck Depression Inventory-2nd Edition (BDI-II) as well as a working memory task (i.e., dual N-back) prior to the mood induction. Multilevel growth modeling analyses were utilized to evaluate the degree to which the temporal growth of negative affect was explained by mind-wandering frequency and content. Models were fitted to three versions of the dataset based on group-level indicators of mood-repair: a full dataset encompassing all data, a repair dataset encompassing data for the time period prior to mood repair, and a post-repair dataset encompassing data following the return to baseline levels of negative affect. Results: Results indicated that mind-wandering frequency did not predict the sustainment of previously generated negative mood. In both the full and repair models, higher levels of mind-wandering frequency predicted higher levels of negative affect across time, but mind-wandering frequency was not found to influence change in negative affect over time (e.g., sustainment). Likewise, increased reporting of negative, past-oriented mind-wandering content was found to predict greater levels of negative affect in all three models, but did not predict changes in negative affect over time. Higher BDI-II scores and greater working memory task performance further predicted greater overall levels of negative affect across time. However, an exploratory analysis revealed that as the rate of change in mind-wandering increased (i.e., the slope of mind-wandering frequency became more positive) the linear growth of negative affect over both the full and repair periods increased (i.e., greater negative mood sustainment). This association was not found to be statistically significant in the post-repair model, indicating that the rate of mind-wandering change over time was specific in predicting the sustainment of previously generated negative mood. Conclusion: These findings suggest that the rate of change in mind-wandering frequency, rather than its absolute level, may play an important role in the sustainment of previously generated negative mood. This evidence for the role of mind-wandering in negative mood sustainment is discussed in terms of both its theoretical and clinical implications.
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