Experimental Brain Research

, Volume 237, Issue 2, pp 557–571 | Cite as

Where is my mind? Examining mind-wandering and vigilance performance

  • Alexis R. NeigelEmail author
  • Victoria L. Claypoole
  • Nicholas W. Fraulini
  • Grace E. Waldfogle
  • James L. Szalma
Research Article


Vigilance is the ability to sustain attention to information for prolonged periods of time, particularly in environments where critical signals may be rare. Recent research in the domain of mind-wandering has suggested that processes associated with mind-wandering may underpin the typical decline in vigilance task performance. Current methods for measuring mind-wandering either disrupt vigils by asking probe questions throughout the task, or, require observers to reflect on how much mind-wandering occurred during the task upon conclusion of the vigil. Across three experimental studies, we treat mind-wandering as an individual difference, which was measured pre- and post-vigil. We argue this technique is a more holistic representation of mind-wandering and is less intrusive than probe measures, which serve to disrupt the vigil. The results of our first experiment challenge previous results in the literature: higher rates of mind-wandering were associated with improved correct detection performance. Interestingly, the second experiment suggests that increases in mind-wandering were not linked to vigilance performance deficits. However, significant differences in global workload emerged in the second experiment, implying individuals low in mind-wandering report greater workload. In a third experiment, wherein we manipulated event rate, mind-wandering typology had no significant effect on vigilance performance. We conclude with a discussion of the relevance of individual differences in mind-wandering in vigilance research considering the present findings.


Attention Human performance Mind-wandering Sustained attention Vigilance 



This research was supported by the University of Central Florida Dean’s Dissertation Completion Fellowship, which was awarded to Dr. Alexis R. Neigel in 2017 and Dr. Victoria L. Claypoole in 2018.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The views and conclusions contained in this document are those of the authors and should not be interpreted as representing the official policies, either expressed or implied, of the US Air Force Academy or the US Government. The US Government is authorized to reproduce and distribute reprints for Government purposes notwithstanding any copyright notation herein.


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Copyright information

© This is a U.S. government work and its text is not subject to copyright protection in the United States; however, its text may be subject to foreign copyright protection 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alexis R. Neigel
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Victoria L. Claypoole
    • 3
  • Nicholas W. Fraulini
    • 3
  • Grace E. Waldfogle
    • 3
  • James L. Szalma
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of the Behavioral and Leadership SciencesUnited States Air Force AcademyColorado SpringsUSA
  2. 2.Warfighter Effectiveness Research Center (WERC), United States Air Force AcademyColorado SpringsUSA
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Central Florida, College of SciencesOrlandoUSA

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