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Quantifying streams of thought during cognitive task performance using sequence analysis

Authors
  • Zanesco, Anthony P.1
  • 1 University of Miami, 5665 Ponce de Leon Blvd, Coral Gables, FL, 33146, USA , Coral Gables (United States)
Type
Published Article
Journal
Behavior Research Methods
Publisher
Springer - Psychonomic Society
Publication Date
May 18, 2020
Volume
52
Issue
6
Pages
2417–2437
Identifiers
DOI: 10.3758/s13428-020-01416-1
Source
Springer Nature
Keywords
License
Yellow

Abstract

Streams of thought vary in content from one moment to the next, and these temporal patterns have been argued to be critical to understanding the wandering mind. But few analytic methods have been proposed that can account for both the content and temporal ordering of categorical experience sampling thought probes over time. In the present study, I apply sequence analytic methods to quantify the dynamics of thought from time series sequences of categorical experience sampling thought probes delivered across five different cognitive tasks in the same individuals (N = 545). Analyses revealed some patterns of consistency in streams of thought within individuals, but also demonstrated considerable variability within and between task sessions. Hierarchical clustering of sequence dissimilarities further revealed common typologies of mind wandering across individuals. These findings demonstrate the application of sequence analytic methods for quantifying the dynamics of thought over the course of task performance and show that contextual task constraints are associated with how streams of thought unfold over time. More broadly, sequence analysis provides a valuable framework for investigation of time ordered cognitive and behavioral processes across psychological domains.

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