Advisory Board

Dr. Jonathan Smallwood

The New York Times article Discovering the Virtues of a Wandering Mind said

In the past, daydreaming was often considered a failure of mental discipline, or worse. Freud labeled it infantile and neurotic. Psychology textbooks warned it could lead to psychosis. Neuroscientists complained that the rogue bursts of activity on brain scans kept interfering with their studies of more important mental functions.
But now that researchers have been analyzing those stray thoughts, they’ve found daydreaming to be remarkably common — and often quite useful. A wandering mind can protect you from immediate perils and keep you on course toward long-term goals. Sometimes daydreaming is counterproductive, but sometimes it fosters creativity and helps you solve problems.
During waking hours, people’s minds seem to wander about 30 percent of the time, according to estimates by psychologists who have interrupted people throughout the day to ask what they’re thinking. If you’re driving down a straight, empty highway, your mind might be wandering three-quarters of the time, according to two of the leading researchers, Jonathan Schooler and Jonathan Smallwood of the University of California, Santa Barbara.
“People assume mind wandering is a bad thing, but if we couldn’t do it during a boring task, life would be horrible,” Dr. Smallwood says. “Imagine if you couldn’t escape mentally from a traffic jam.”

Jonathan Smallwood, Ph.D. is Postdoctoral Researcher, Department of Psychology, UC Santa Barbara.
Jonny earned both his Bachelors degree and his Ph.D. from Strathclyde University in the city of Glasgow, United Kingdom. His dissertation was concerned with understanding the experience of task unrelated thinking — a scientific term for what the lay person would consider the states of “daydreaming” or “mind wandering”.
Since earning his Ph.D. in 2002, Jonny has continued to study task unrelated thinking with the aim of producing a viable cognitive neuroscience account of how and why the mind wanders. To achieve this aim, he has explored the consequences of task unrelated thinking on our attention to the external environment by pioneering the search for objective physiological and behavioral indicators of the wandering mind.
A second line of research has examined the factors, such as mood state, which lead the mind to wander from what we are doing. To date he has produced more than 30 peer reviewed journal articles, most of which (as you could probably guess) are on the topic of mind wandering.
Jonny coauthored Subjective experience and the attentional lapse: Task engagement and disengagement during sustained attention, Aromatherapy and behaviour disturbances in dementia: a randomized controlled trial, Experience sampling during fMRI reveals default network and executive system contributions to mind wandering, Task unrelated thought whilst encoding information, Hopelessness, stress, and perfectionism: The moderating effects of future thinking, Task unrelated thought: The role of distributed processing, Mind-wandering and dysphoria, and The lights are on but no one’s home: Meta-awareness and the decoupling of attention when the mind wanders.