Task-unrelated thought increases after consumption of COVID-19 and general news

  • Chelsie M. Hart (Creator)
  • Caitlin Mills (Creator)
  • Raela F. Thiemann (Creator)
  • Jessica R Andrews-Hanna (Creator)
  • Lianne M. Tomfohr-Madsen (Creator)
  • Julia W.Y. Kam (Creator)



Abstract Task-unrelated thoughts (TUTs) are frequent distractions from our everyday tasks, which can reduce productivity and safety during task performance. This necessitates the examination of factors that modulate TUT occurrence in daily life. One factor that has previously been implicated as a source of TUT is personally salient concerns. External factors such as news media serve as cues for these concerns, potentially increasing TUT occurrence. However, this has not been thoroughly examined in everyday life settings. We thus utilized Ecological Momentary Assessment to survey participants throughout the day for ten days, on their TUTs and news consumption in two separate studies. Study 1 focused on the impact of news related to the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) pandemic, as a common and global concern. We found that TUT occurrence was significantly predicted by COVID-19 news consumption, such that TUT occurrence increased with COVID-19 news consumption. To extend these findings, we implemented Study 2 using similar methods, but focusing on the consumption of news media in general. TUT occurrence was predicted by general news consumption, with an increase in reports of TUT following consumption of news media in general. We thus extended the association found between TUT and COVID-19-related news in Study 1, to any news topic in Study 2. We speculate that the increase in TUTs was due to heightened salience of current concerns, cued by the news. These findings highlight the importance of considering when we choose to consume news media and the value of examining contextual factors when studying TUTs in daily life.
Date made available2022

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