By Choice or By Chance? Intentional Reverie is Real but Rare

Westgate, Erin, Psychology - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Wilson, Timothy, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia

Up to half our lives consists of private internally-focused thought, yet little research has focused on the content and consequences of such thought. The ability to occupy oneself solely by thinking could even reduce stress and increase well-being. However, lab studies suggest that many people do not enjoy intentional thinking and may prefer even negative external stimulation to being alone with their thoughts. Do people deliberately entertain themselves with their thoughts in everyday life and if so, do they enjoy it? Or do people prefer it when such thoughts occur spontaneously? In an experience sampling study, 170 undergraduates responded to texts four times a day for one week, reporting on their thoughts. Overall, people were focused almost equally on the external world around them (48.8% of the time) and on their own inner thoughts (49.3%). On average people chose to entertain themselves with their thoughts approximately 18.48% of the time and reported positive moods while doing so. However, people were in even better moods when desired thoughts occurred spontaneously rather than intentionally. Although people do intentionally engage in enjoyable thinking in everyday life, such thought may make up only a minority of conscious mental activity, and be less enjoyable than spontaneous desired thoughts.

MA (Master of Arts)
thinking, emotion, boredom, mental control, subjective well-being, mindwandering
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