Conjoint Influence of Mind-Wandering and Sleepiness on Task Performance

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Recent research suggests that sleepiness and mind-wandering—the experience of thoughts that are both stimulus-independent and task-unrelated—frequently co-occur and are both associated with poorer cognitive functioning. Whether these two phenomena have distinguishable effects on task performance remains unknown, however. To investigate this question, we used the online experience sampling of mind-wandering episodes and subjective sleepiness during a laboratory task (the Sustained Attention to Response Task; SART), and also assessed mind-wandering frequency and sleep-related disturbances in daily life using self-report questionnaires. The results revealed that the tendency to experience mind-wandering episodes during the SART and daily life was associated with higher levels of daytime sleepiness and sleep-related disturbances. More important, however, mind-wandering and sleepiness were independent predictors of SART performance at both the within- and between-individuals levels. These findings demonstrate that, although mind-wandering and sleepiness frequently co-occur, these two phenomena have distinguishable and additive effects on task performance.

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