Mind-wandering and negative mood

Poerio, G. L., Totterdell, P., & Miles, E. (2013). Mind-wandering and negative mood: Does one thing really lead to another?. Consciousness and cognition22(4), 1412-1421. Full text.

Abstract. Mind-wandering is closely connected with negative mood. Whether negative mood is a cause or consequence of mind-wandering remains an important, unresolved, issue. We sought to clarify the direction of this relationship by measuring mood before and after mind-wandering.

We also measured the affective content, time-orientation and relevance of mind-wandering to current concerns to explore whether the link between mind-wandering and negative mood might be explained by these characteristics. A novel experience-sampling technique with smartphone application prompted participants to answer questions about mind-wandering and mood across 7 days.

While sadness tended to precede mind-wandering, mind-wandering itself was not associated with later mood and only predicted feeling worse if its content was negative. We also found prior sadness predicted retrospective mind-wandering, and prior negative mood predicted mind-wandering to current concerns.

Our findings provide new insight into how mood and mind-wandering relate but suggest mind-wandering is not inherently detrimental to well-being.