Effects of Stimulus Type and Stress Level on Zoning-Out Frequency and Comprehension
Abstract: Mindless reading refers to a state in which attention is directed to inner thoughts unrelated to the text at hand while eyes are still in motion across the page. Although it is a frequently-experienced phenomenon, it started to get scientific attention only in the past few decades mostly because of its subjective nature. Until recently, the majority of research on mindless reading has focused on the differences between eye movements and latent linguistic processing during normal reading and mindless reading and the effects of mood on zoning-out frequency. However, the differences between different modularities such as linguistic and auditory processing during wandering mind and especially the cognitive mechanisms behind the phenomenon of mindless listening are still a burning issue. The present study used behavioral and experience-sampling tools to compare the effects of lexical, auditory and simultaneously-presented lexical and auditory stimuli types on zoning-out frequency and their relation to stress level and comprehension accuracy. In the experiment, each participant was asked to take part in three individual conditions by completing a sixty-minute-long experimental procedure where they pressed a key whenever they caught themselves zoning-out. The results of behavioral analysis revealed that both the total and maximum zoning-out times during only auditory stimulus were the highest, by contrast, the condition which consisted of only lexical stimulus showed the lowest total and maximum zoning-out frequency. Zoning-out frequency and comprehension accuracy were negatively correlated for all stimulus types, which is consistent with previous studies although they implemented only lexical stimuli. Also, there were marginally significant differences in zoning-out frequency among participants of different stress groups. The results of experience-sampling analysis showed that the majority of participants preferred only to read the text at their own pace rather than following the simultaneous audio version of it during the simultaneously-presented lexical and auditory stimuli condition. Thus, these results suggest a sensitivity to lexical stimuli not only in a conscious attentional state but also in the absence of conscious effort. This is also consistent with our main hypothesis and introduces an attentional decoupling mechanism in favour of lexical stimuli rather than of auditory stimulus.