Japanese study reveals link between curiosity, anxiety and the wandering mind


A Japanese scientist is shedding light on the complex interplay between curiosity, anxiety and mind-wandering.

About the study: Research published by Takahiro Sekiguchi of Tokyo Gakugei University in April delved into epistemic curiosity, which encompasses diversive curiosity (interest in a broad spectrum of subjects) and specific curiosity (more concentrated interest in particular areas).

The paper, titled "Curiosity Makes Your Mind Wander: Effects of Epistemic Curiosity and Trait Anxiety on Mind Wandering," involved two separate studies conducted by Sekiguchi on the influence of curiosity and anxiety on mind-wandering. The findings show that curious individuals are more prone to intentional and unintentional mind-wandering, while those with higher anxiety levels show poorer executive control, indirectly leading to increased mind-wandering.

Understanding mind wandering: Mind-wandering, also known as daydreaming, is a common cognitive phenomenon where a person's attention shifts from the immediate task to unrelated thoughts, memories or fantasies. While it's a normal part of human cognition, excessive mind-wandering can impact productivity. Previous research has linked mind-wandering to anxiety, depression and creative thinking, as well as the executive control capacities of an individual.

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First study methodology and findings: In the first study, 260 psychology student participants completed assessments on epistemic curiosity, mind-wandering tendency, trait anxiety and executive control. The findings showed that anxiety was linked to increased mind-wandering and weakened executive control, indirectly influencing mind-wandering. The study also developed a statistical model supporting the mediating role of executive control in the anxiety-mind-wandering connection.

Second study methodology and findings: The second study, conducted online with 328 native Japanese speakers, revealed a faint link between diversive curiosity and unintentional mind-wandering. Individuals with a broad range of interests were marginally more prone to mind-wandering. The statistical model suggested that diversive curiosity might increase both intentional and unintentional mind-wandering. Anxiety, once again, impaired executive control, increasing the propensity for unintentional mind-wandering.

Implications and limitations: Sekiguchi’s research provides valuable insights, highlighting that trait anxiety is indirectly linked to mind-wandering through executive control, while epistemic curiosity has a direct influence. The paper notes, however, that the scientist's model doesn't allow for cause-and-effect conclusions, and the link between diversive curiosity and unintentional mind-wandering is weak.

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