How To Tell When Someone’s Mind Is Wandering

There will be a test, so I hope you are paying attention.

There will be a test, so I hope you are paying attention.

When a person starts to blink more rapidly, it suggests their mind is wandering, research finds.

Blinking sets up a tiny barrier against the outside world, allowing the brain to focus on something different.

The researchers were inspired by neuroscientific findings that parts of the brain are less active when the mind wanders.

Dr Daniel Smilek, the study’s first author, said:

“And we thought, OK, if that’s the case, maybe we’d see that the body would start to do things to prevent the brain from receiving external information.

The simplest thing that might happen is you might close your eyes more.”

For the study people read a passage from a book while their eye movements and blinks were monitored.

Randomly, people were stopped and asked whether they were paying attention or not.

The results showed people blinked more when they had switched off from the text and were thinking of something else.

Dr Smilek said:

“What we suggest is that when you start to mind-wander, you start to gate the information even at the sensory endings — you basically close your eyelid so there’s less information coming into the brain.”

The study was published in the journal Psychological Science (Smilek et al., 2010).

Author: Jeremy Dean

Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology. He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book "Making Habits, Breaking Habits" (Da Capo, 2013) and several ebooks.

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