When we engage in internally directed cognition (e.g., planning or imagination), our eye behavior decouples from external stimuli and couples to internal representations (e.g., internal visualizations of ideas). Here, we investigated whether eye behavior predicts the susceptibility to visual distraction during internally directed cognition. To this end, participants performed a divergent thinking task, which required internally directed attention, and we measured distraction in terms of attention capture by unrelated images. We used multilevel mixed models to predict visual distraction by eye behavior right before distractor onset. In Study 1 (N = 38), visual distraction was predicted by increased saccade and blink rate, and higher pupil dilation. We replicated these findings in Study 2 using the same task, but with less predictable distractor onsets and a larger sample (N = 144). We also explored whether individual differences in susceptibility to visual distraction were related to cognitive ability and task performance. Taken together, variation in eye behavior was found to be a consistent predictor of visual distraction during internally directed cognition. This highlights the relevance of eye parameters as objective indicators of internal versus external attentional focus and distractibility during complex mental tasks.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
- Language and Linguistics
- Sensory Systems
- Linguistics and Language