Off-task thinking among adults with and without social anxiety disorder: an ecological momentary assessment study

Joanna J. Arch, Ramsey R. Wilcox, Lindsay T. Ives, Aylah Sroloff, Jessica R. Andrews-Hanna

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Although task-unrelated thinking (often conceptualised as “mind-wandering”) has been increasingly investigated in recent years, the content and correlates of everyday off-task thought in clinical disorders, particularly anxiety disorders, remain poorly understood. We aimed to address this gap by using ecological momentary assessment to assess off-task and on-task thoughts in adults with social anxiety disorder (SAD) and demographically matched controls. Findings showed that individuals with SAD more frequently engaged in internally oriented off-task thinking than healthy controls, but not externally oriented off-task thinking. Compared to thoughts focused on the task at hand, adults with SAD rated their internal off-task thoughts as less controllable, more self-focused, and as associated with worse mood than controls. However, when the SAD group was focused on the task at hand, group differences disappeared. Daily findings were paralleled by higher scores in SAD on a trait measure of unintentional, but not intentional, mind-wandering. In sum, the content and mood correlate of internally oriented off-task thoughts depended on the presence of clinical anxiety. In addition, focusing on the task at hand normalised thought content and mood in SAD, highlighting a window for intervention.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)269-281
Number of pages13
JournalCognition and Emotion
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Mind-wandering
  • anxiety
  • ecological momentary assessment
  • experience sampling
  • social anxiety disorder
  • social phobia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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