Behavior Research Methods

, Volume 50, Issue 2, pp 642–661 | Cite as

Mind-wandering, how do I measure thee with probes? Let me count the ways



In the past decade, a new field has formed to investigate the concept of mind-wandering, or task-unrelated thought. The state of mind-wandering is typically contrasted with being on-task, or paying attention to the task at hand, and is related to decrements in performance on cognitive tasks. The most widely used method for collecting mind-wandering data—the probe-caught method—involves stopping participants during a task and asking them where their attention is directed. In this review, 145 studies from 105 articles published between 2005 and 2015 were classified according to the framing and wording of the thought probe and response options. Five distinct methodologies were identified: neutral (in which counterbalancing was used to equally emphasize on-task and off-task states), dichotomous (say “yes” or “no” to one thought state), dichotomous (choose between two thought states), categorical, and scale. The review identifies at least 69 different methodological variants, catalogues the verbatim probes and response options used in each study, and suggests important considerations for future empirical work.


Mind wandering Task-unrelated thoughts Daydreaming Attention Framing 


Author note

Henry J. De Lima, Kelsey Gilbert, and Sean McCaffery helped locate references and extract methodological details. Nicholas Tilton checked all tables for accuracy. The work was partially supported by a University of Massachusetts–Lowell internal seed grant.


* indicates an article included in the methodological review

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Copyright information

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Massachusetts–LowellLowellUSA

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