Task unrelated thought whilst encoding information

Jonathan M. Smallwood, Simona F. Baracaia, Michelle Lowe, Marc Obonsawin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

184 Citations (Scopus)


Task unrelated thought (TUT) refers to thought directed away from the current situation, for example a daydream. Three experiments were conducted on healthy participants, with two broad aims. First, to contrast distributed and encapsulated views of cognition by comparing the encoding of categorical and random lists of words (Experiments One and Two). Second, to examine the consequences of experiencing TUT during study on the subsequent retrieval of information (Experiments One, Two, and Three). Experiments One and Two demonstrated lower levels of TUT and higher levels of word-fragment completion whilst encoding categorical relative to random stimuli, supporting the role of a distributed resource in the maintenance of TUT. In addition the results of all three experiments suggested that experiencing TUT during study had a measurable effect on subsequent retrieval. TUT was associated with increased frequency of false alarms at retrieval (Experiment One). In the subsequent experiments TUT was associated with no advantage to retrieval based on recollection, by manipulating instructions at encoding (Experiment Two), and/or at retrieval (Experiment Three). The implications of the results of all three experiments are discussed in terms of recent accounts of memory retrieval and conscious awareness.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)452-484
Number of pages32
JournalConsciousness and Cognition
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2003


  • task unrelated thought
  • thought
  • cognition
  • awareness
  • psychology


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