Eye movements reveal readers’ wandering minds (Kafka: too engaging)

It’s not just you…everybody zones out when they’re reading. For a new study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, scientists recorded eye movements during reading and found that the eyes keep moving when the mind wanders—but they don’t move in the same way as they do when you’re paying attention.


Four undergraduate students at the University of Pittsburgh volunteered for the project. Each one came to the lab for a dozen or more one-hour reading sessions of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, chosen because it’s “fairly easy but a little bit dry,” says Reichle. “We started with Kafka’s The Trial, but people found it too engaging.” While the student read the book on a screen, a computer tracked their eye movements. They were asked to push a button marked “Z” when they noticed themselves “zoning out.” The computer also asked every few minutes if they’d just been paying attention or zoning out.


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