Behavior Research Methods

, Volume 51, Issue 1, pp 398–408 | Cite as

Examining the effects of probe frequency, response options, and framing within the thought-probe method

  • Matthew K. RobisonEmail author
  • Ashley L. Miller
  • Nash Unsworth


A recent surge of interest in the empirical measurement of mind-wandering has led to an increase in the use of thought-probing to measure attentional states, which has led to large variation in methodologies across studies (Weinstein in Behavior Research Methods, 50, 642–661, 2018). Three sources of variation in methodology include the frequency of thought probes during a task, the number of response options provided for each probe, and the way in which various attentional states are framed during the task instructions. Method variation can potentially affect behavioral performance on the tasks in which thought probes are embedded, the experience of various attentional states within those tasks, and/or response biases to the thought probes. Therefore, such variation can be problematic, both pragmatically and theoretically. Across three experiments, we examined how manipulating probe frequency, response options, and framing affected behavioral performance and responses to thought probes. Probe frequency and framing did not affect behavioral performance or probe responses. But, in light of the present results, we argue that thought probes need at least three responses, corresponding to on-task, off-task, and task-related interference. When researchers are specifically investigating mind-wandering, the probe responses should also distinguish between mind-wandering, external distraction, and mind-blanking.


Mind-wandering Thought probes Sustained attention 


Author note

This research was supported by Office of Naval Research Grant No. N00014-15-1-2790. All data are publicly available at the Open Science Framework ( or upon request from the first author.


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Copyright information

© The Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyArizona State UniversityTempeUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of OregonEugeneUSA

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