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Title: Absent-mindedness  
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Subject: Attention, Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, Personality traits, International English Language Testing System, Alzheimer's disease
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Absent-mindedness is where a person shows inattentive or forgetful behaviour.[1] It can have three different causes:

  1. a low level of attention ("blanking" or "zoning out")
  2. intense attention to a single object of focus (hyperfocus) that makes a person oblivious to events around him or her;
  3. unwarranted distraction of attention from the object of focus by irrelevant thoughts or environmental events.[2]

Absent-mindedness is a mental condition in which the subject experiences low levels of attention and frequent distraction. Absent-mindedness is not a diagnosed condition but rather a symptom of boredom and sleepiness which people experience in their daily lives. When suffering from absent-mindedness, people tend to show signs of memory lapse and weak recollection of recently occurring events. This can usually be a result of a variety of other conditions often diagnosed by clinicians such as ADD and depression. In addition to absent-mindedness leading to an array of consequences affecting daily life, it can have as more severe, long-term problems.


Absent Mindedness seemingly consists of lapses of concentration or "zoning out". This can result in lapses of short or long term memory, depending on when the person in question was in a state of absent-mindedness.[3] Absent-mindedness also relates directly to lapses in [3] This is common among teenagers and seniors.


Though absent-mindedness is a frequent occurrence, there has been little progress made on what the direct causes of absent-mindedness are. However, it tends to co-occur with ill health, preoccupation, and distraction.[4]


Lapses of attention are clearly a part of everyone’s life. Some are merely inconvenient, such as missing a familiar turn-off on the highway, while some are extremely serious, such as failures of attention that cause accidents, injury, or loss of life.[5] Beyond the obvious costs of accidents arising from lapses in attention there are: lost time; efficiency; personal productivity; and quality of life. These can also occur in the lapse and recapture of awareness and attention to everyday tasks. Individuals for whom intervals between lapses are very short are typically viewed as impaired.[6] Given the prevalence of attentional failures in everyday life, and the ubiquitous and sometimes disastrous consequences of such failures, it is rather surprising that relatively little work has been done to directly measure individual differences in everyday errors arising from propensities for failures of attention.[7] Absent-mindedness can also lead to bad grades at school, boredom, and depression [5]

Absent-mindedness in popular culture

The Thales, who it is said "walked at night with his eyes focused on the heavens and, as a result, fell down a well".[8][9] One classic example of this is in the Disney film The Absent-Minded Professor made in 1963 and based on the short story A Situation of Gravity, by Samuel W. Taylor. Two examples of this character portrayed in more modern media include doctor Emmett Brown from Back to the Future and Professor Farnsworth of Futurama.

In literature, "The Absent-Minded Beggar" is a poem by Rudyard Kipling, written in 1899,[10] and was directed at the absent–mindedness of the population of Great Britain in ignoring the plight of their troops in the Boer War. The poem illustrated the fact that soldiers who could not return to their previous jobs needed support,[11] and the need to raise money to support the fighting troops. The poem was also set to music by Gilbert & Sullivan and a campaign raised to support the British troops, especially on their departure and return, and the sick and wounded.[12] Franz Kafka also wrote "Absent-minded Window-gazing", one of his short-story titles from Betrachtung.

Other characters include:

See also

Absent-mindedness can be avoided or fixed in several ways. Although it can be accomplished through medical procedures, it can also be accomplished through psychological treatments. Examples include: altering work schedules to make them shorter, having frequent rest periods and utilizing a drowsy-operator warning device.[14]

Absent-mindedness and its related topics are often measured in scales developed in studies to survey boredom and attention levels. For instance, the Attention-Related Cognitive Errors Scale (ARCES) reflects errors in performance that result from attention lapses. Another scale, called the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale (MAAS) measures the ability to maintain a reasonable level of attention in everyday life. The Boredom Proneness Scale (BPS) measures the level of boredom in relation to the attention level of the subject.[15]

Absent-mindedness can lead to automatic behaviors, or automatisms. Additionally, absent-minded actions can involve behavioral mistakes. A phenomenon called Attention-Lapse Induced Alienation occurs when a person makes a mistake while absent-mindedly performing a task. The person then attributes the mistake to his or her hand rather than their self, because they were not paying attention.[16]

See also


  1. ^ "absent-minded". Oxford dictionaries. Retrieved 5 August 2011. 
  2. ^ "absentmindedness". Retrieved 12 July 2011. 
  3. ^ a b Schacter, D. & Dodson, C. (2001). Misattribution, false recognition and the sins of memory. The Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 356, 1385-1393.
  4. ^ Reason, J. & Lucas, D. (1984). Absent-mindedness in shops: Its incidence, correlates and consequences. British Journal of Clinical Psychology 23(2), 121-131.
  5. ^ a b Carriere, J. S. A., Cheyne, J. A., & Smilek, D. (2008). Everyday Attention Lapses and Memory Failures: The Affective Consequences of Mindlessness. Consciousness and Cognition Sep;17(3):835-47. Epub 2007 Jun e 15.
  6. ^ Robertson, I. H. (2003). The absent mind attention and error. The Psychologist, 16, 9, 476-479.
  7. ^ Giambra, L. M. (1995). A laboratory method for investigating influences on switching attention to task-unrelated imagery and thought. Consciousness and Cognition, 4, 1-21.
  8. ^ O’Grady, Patricia (17 September 2004). "Thales of Miletus (c. 620 BCE – c. 546 BCE)". Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, a peer-reviewed academic resource. IEP.  
  9. ^ Diogenes Laërtius, Lives of the Eminent Philosophers, "Thales"
  10. ^ Fowler, Simon. "The Absent-Minded Beggar": an introduction, Fowler History site, 2001, accessed 5 August 2011
  11. ^ Letter dated 9 October 1899 from "Acta non Verba", The Times, 19 October 1899
  12. ^ Cannon, John. "Following the Absent-minded Beggar", Gilbert and Sullivan News, Autumn 2010, Vol. IV, No.12, pp. 10–12
  13. ^ Burns, Bernie. "Rooster Teeth Productions". Red vs. Blue. 
  14. ^ Wallace, J., Vodanovich, S., Restino, B. (2002). Predicting cognitive failures from boredom proneness and daytime sleepiness scores: An investigation within military and undergraduate samples. Personality and Individual Differences, 34, 635-644.
  15. ^ Cheyne, J., Carriere, J. & Smilek, D. (2006). Absent-mindedness: Lapses of conscious awareness and everyday cognitive failures. Consciousness and Cognition 15, 578-592.
  16. ^ Cheyne, J. Carriere, J. & Smilek, D. (2009). Absent minds and absent agents: Attention lapse-induced alienation of agency, Consciousness and Cognition, 18, 481-493.

Further reading

  • Reason, J. T. (1982). Absent-minded? The Psychology of Mental Lapses and Everyday Errors. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall.
  • Reason, J. T. (1984). Lapses of attention in everyday life. In R. Parasuraman & D. R. Davies (Eds.), Varieties of attention. New York: Academic Press.
  • Reason, J. T. (1990). Human Error. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Schacter, D.L. 1983. Amnesia observed: Remembering and forgetting in a natural environment. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 92, 236-42.

External links

  • Oops! The Absent and Wandering Mind, University of Waterloo
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