Faculty Articles

Age-Related Differences in Mind Wandering: The Role of Emotional Valence.

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The Journals of Gerontology, Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences




OBJECTIVES: Older adults consistently report fewer experiences of mind wandering compared to younger adults. Aging is also associated with a shift in the emotional focus of our thoughts, with Older adults tending to experience an increase in attention towards positive information, or a "positivity bias," relative to younger adults. Here, we tested if the positivity bias associated with aging can also predict age-related changes in the content of older adults' mind wandering.

METHOD: Older adults and younger adults completed a go/no-go task with periodic thought probes to assess rates of emotionally valenced mind wandering.

RESULTS: Older adults reported significantly less negatively and neutrally valenced mind wandering compared to younger adults, but there was no age difference in reports of positively valenced mind wandering. Overall rates of mind wandering predicted poorer task performance for both age groups: Individuals who mind wandered more, performed worse, but this did not differ by the emotional valence. Both older adults and younger adults showed similar in-the-moment performance deficits with mind wandering reports being associated with worse immediate no-go accuracy and faster reaction times.

DISCUSSION: Focusing on different dimensions of thought content, such as emotional valence, can provide new insight into age-related differences in mind wandering. Older adults mind wandering reports were less negative and neutral compared to younger adults suggesting a positivity bias for older adults. However, this positivity bias does not seem to impact task performance. We discuss the implications of the findings for mind wandering theories and the positivity bias.






© The Author(s) 2023. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The Gerontological Society of America. All rights reserved.

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