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The era of the wandering mind? Twenty-first century research on self-generated mental activity

Callard, Felicity; Smallwood, Jonathan; Golchert, Johannes; Margulies, Daniel S.

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Felicity Callard

Jonathan Smallwood

Johannes Golchert

Daniel S. Margulies


The first decade of the twenty-first century was characterized by renewed scientific interest in self-generated mental activity (activity largely generated by the individual, rather than in direct response to experimenters’ instructions or specific external sensory inputs). To understand this renewal of interest, we interrogated the peer-reviewed literature from 2003 to 2012 (i) to explore recent changes in use of terms for self-generated mental activity; (ii) to investigate changes in the topics on which mind wandering research, specifically, focuses; and (iii) to visualize co-citation communities amongst researchers working on self-generated mental activity. Our analyses demonstrated that there has been a dramatic increase in the term “mind wandering” from 2006, and a significant crossing-over of psychological investigations of mind wandering into cognitive neuroscience (particularly in relation to research on the default mode and default mode network). If our article concludes that this might, indeed, be the “era of the wandering mind,” it also calls for more explicit reflection to be given by researchers in this field to the terms they use, the topics and brain regions they focus on, and the research literatures that they implicitly foreground or ignore.


Callard, F., Smallwood, J., Golchert, J., & Margulies, D. S. (2013). The era of the wandering mind? Twenty-first century research on self-generated mental activity. Frontiers in Psychology, 4,

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Nov 10, 2013
Publication Date Dec 18, 2013
Deposit Date Nov 29, 2013
Publicly Available Date Jul 28, 2015
Journal Frontiers in Psychology
Print ISSN 1664-1078
Publisher Frontiers Media
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 4
Keywords Mind wandering, Stimulus independent thought, Task-unrelated thought, Daydreaming, Self-generated, Citation mapping, History of psychology, History of cognitive neuroscience.


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Copyright Statement
© 2013 Callard, Smallwood, Golchert and Margulies. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

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