Skip to main content Accessibility help

Towards operationalising internal distractibility (Mind Wandering) in adults with ADHD

  • Joseph Biederman (a1) (a2), Maura Fitzgerald (a1), Mai Uchida (a1) (a2), Thomas J. Spencer (a1) (a2), Ronna Fried (a1) (a2), Jennifer Wicks (a1), Alexandra Saunders (a1) and Stephen V. Faraone (a3) (a4)...



To investigate whether specific symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can help identify ADHD patients with mind wandering.


Subjects were adults ages 18–55 of both sexes (n=41) who completed the Mind-Wandering Questionnaire (MWQ) and the ADHD module of the Schedule for Affective Disorders and Schizophrenia for School-Age Children Epidemiologic Version. We used Spearman’s rank correlation and Pearson’s χ2 analyses to examine associations between the ADHD module and the MWQ and receiver operator characteristic (ROC) analyses to evaluate the diagnostic efficiency of the ADHD module.


Out of the three ADHD domains, the inattentive ADHD scores had the strongest association with the MWQ (total: r s=0.34, df=39, p=0.03; inattentive: r s=0.38, df=39, p=0.02; Hyperactive: r s=0.17, df=39, p=0.28). Correlation analyses between individual items on the ADHD module and the MWQ showed that two inattention items (‘failure to pay attention to detail’ and ‘trouble following instructions’) were positively associated with total scores on the MWQ (p=0.02). These two inattention items had the strongest association with the MWQ (r s=0.45, df=38, p=0.004). ROC analyses showed that the combined score of the two significant inattention items had the highest efficiency (AUC=0.71) in classifying high-level mind wanderers as defined by scores greater than the median split on the MWQ. The combined score of the two inattention items best identified high-level mind wanderers.


Results suggest a way to operationalise mind wandering using the symptoms of ADHD.


Corresponding author

*Joseph Biederman, 55 Fruit Street, Yawkey 6A, Boston, MA 02114, USA. Tel: +617 726 1743; Fax: +617 724 3742; E-mail:


Hide All
1. Smallwood, J, Schooler, JW. The restless mind. Psychol Bull 2006;132:946958.
2. Smallwood, J, Mcspadden, M, Schooler, JW. The lights are on but no one’s home: meta-awareness and the decoupling of attention when the mind wanders. Psychon Bull Rev 2007;14:527533.
3. Seli, P, Smallwood, J, Cheyne, JA, Smilek, D. On the relation of mind wandering and ADHD symptomatology. Psychon Bull Rev 2015;22:629636.
4. Cheyne, JA, Solman, GJF, Carriere, JSA, Smilek, D. Anatomy of an error: a bidirectional state model of task engagement/disengagement and attention-related errors. Cognition 2009;111:98113.
5. Seli, P, Carriere, JS, Levene, M, Smilek, D. How few and far between? Examining the effects of probe rate on self-reported mind wandering. Front Psychol 2013;4:430.
6. Seli, P, Cheyne, JA, Smilek, D. Wandering minds and wavering rhythms: linking mind wandering and behavioral variability. J Exp Psychol Hum Percept Perform 2013;39:15.
7. Seli, P, Carriere, JS, Thomson, DR, Cheyne, JA, Martens, KA, Smilek, D. Restless mind, restless body. J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn 2014;40:660668.
8. Carriere, JS, Seli, P, Smilek, D. Wandering in both mind and body: individual differences in mind wandering and inattention predict fidgeting. Can J Exp Psychol 2013;67:1931.
9. Giambra, LM. Task-unrelated-thought frequency as a function of age: a laboratory study. Psychol Aging 1989;4:136143.
10. Seli, P, Carriere, JS, Smilek, D. Not all mind wandering is created equal: dissociating deliberate from spontaneous mind wandering. Psychol Res 2015;79:750758.
11. Shaw, GA, Giambra, LM. Task-unrelated thoughts of college students diagnosed as hyperactive in childhood. Dev Neuropsychol 1993;9:1730.
12. Orvaschel, H, Puig-Antich, J. Schedule for affective disorders and schizophrenia for school-age children: epidemiologic version. Fort Lauderdale, FL: Nova University, 1987.
13. Faraone, SV, Biederman, J, Spencer, T et al. Diagnosing adult attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: are late onset and subthreshold diagnoses valid? Am J Psychiatry 2006;163:17201729. quiz 859.
14. Biederman, J, Petty, CR, Monuteaux, MC et al. Adult psychiatric outcomes of girls with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: 11-year follow-up in a longitudinal case-control study. Am J Psychiatry 2010;167:409417.
15. Surman, CB, Biederman, J, Spencer, T et al. Deficient emotional self-regulation and adult attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: a family risk analysis. Am J Psychiatry 2011;168:617623.
16. Mrazek, MD, Phillips, DT, Franklin, MS, Broadway, JM, Schooler, JW. Young and restless: validation of the Mind-Wandering Questionnaire (MWQ) reveals disruptive impact of mind-wandering for youth. Front Psychol 2013;4:560.
17. Barron, E, Riby, LM, Greer, J, Smallwood, J. Absorbed in thought: the effect of mind wandering on the processing of relevant and irrelevant events. Psychol Sci 2011;22:596601.
18. Smallwood, J, Andrews-Hanna, J. Not all minds that wander are lost: the importance of a balanced perspective on the mind-wandering state. Front Psychol 2013;4:441.
19. Killingsworth, MA, Gilbert, DT. A wandering mind is an unhappy mind. Science 2010;330:932.
20. Mcvay, JC, Kane, MJ. Conducting the train of thought: working memory capacity, goal neglect, and mind wandering in an executive-control task. J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn 2009;35:196204.
21. Baird, B, Smallwood, J, Mrazek, MD, Kam, JW, Franklin, MS, Schooler, JW. Inspired by distraction: mind wandering facilitates creative incubation. Psychol Sci 2012;23:11171122.


Towards operationalising internal distractibility (Mind Wandering) in adults with ADHD

  • Joseph Biederman (a1) (a2), Maura Fitzgerald (a1), Mai Uchida (a1) (a2), Thomas J. Spencer (a1) (a2), Ronna Fried (a1) (a2), Jennifer Wicks (a1), Alexandra Saunders (a1) and Stephen V. Faraone (a3) (a4)...


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed