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Profiles of mind wandering activity in psychopathology


Kanske,  Philipp
Department Social Neuroscience, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

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Kanske, P. (2016). Profiles of mind wandering activity in psychopathology. Talk presented at 50th Congress of the German Society for Psychology (DGPs). Leipzig, Germany. 2016-09-18 - 2016-09-22.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-002B-347F-7
The human mind is capable of many forms of self-generated thought, such as day-dreaming of an upcoming holiday, planning the evening meal or ruminating about the last quarrel with one’s partner. Here, we applied an established experience sampling technique during a standard non-demanding task to probe the amount and specific content of self-generated thoughts in different psychopathologies. In particular we tested patients with borderline personality disorder (BPD), with major depression (MD), healthy participants greatly varying in narcissism, and individuals with a history of legally relevant aggressive behavior. Common differences across these four conditions included increased negative and decreased positive valence of thoughts, yielding an overall negative bias in psychopathology in contrast to positively biased thoughts in non-affected participants. Most interestingly, each condition was also associated with specific alterations in self-generated thoughts: While BPD patients showed strong fluctuations in how self- and other-related their thoughts were, MD patients showed a rumination-like pattern with generally increased negatively valenced off-task thoughts about past events. Narcissism in contrast was associated with more positively valenced thoughts about the self, while the aggressive group reported more negatively valenced thoughts about others. The results suggest that different psychopathological conditions are associated with distinct patterns of self-generated thought content that allow the description of specific profiles. Given the high prevalence of mind wandering with up to 50% of the waking time, these specific thought profiles may be highly relevant for our understanding of the development and course of the different conditions and may prove useful as diagnostic tools and therapeutic targets.