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12-02-2021 | Original Article Open Access

Mind wandering increases linearly with text difficulty

Psychological Research
Rebecca Kahmann, Yesim Ozuer, Claire M. Zedelius, Erik Bijleveld
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Supplementary Information

The online version contains supplementary material available at https://​doi.​org/​10.​1007/​s00426-021-01483-9.
Rebecca Kahmann and Yesim Ozuer contributed equally to this work.

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Although mind wandering during reading is known to be affected by text difficulty, the nature of this relationship is not yet fully understood. To examine this issue, we conducted an experiment in which participants read non-fiction texts that varied along five levels of difficulty under naturalistic conditions. Difficulty levels were determined based on Flesch–Kincaid Grade Levels and verified with Coh–Metrix indices. Mind wandering was measured with thought probes. We predicted that text difficulty and mind wandering have a U-shaped (i.e., quadratic) relationship. Contrary to our expectations, but in line with some prior studies, mind wandering linearly increased with text difficulty. Additionally, text interest moderated the effect of text difficulty on mind wandering. Finally, mind wandering was associated with worse performance on a comprehension test. Together, our findings extend previous work by showing that (a) a linear relationship between difficulty and mind wandering exists during common page-by-page reading of pre-existing texts and that (b) this relationship holds across a broad range of difficulty levels.

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