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Front. Hum. Neurosci. | doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2021.697532

Measuring Mind Wandering during Online Lectures Assessed with EEG Provisionally accepted The final, formatted version of the article will be published soon. Notify me

  • 1School of Information Management, Dalhousie University, Canada
  • 2Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, Dalhousie University, Canada

Mind wandering can inhibit learning in multimedia classrooms, such as when watching online lectures. One explanation for this effect is that periods of mind wandering cause learners’ attention to be redirected from the learning material towards task-unrelated thoughts. The present study explored the relationship between mind wandering and online education using electroencephalography (EEG). Participants were asked to attend to a 75 min educational video lecture, while task-irrelevant auditory tones played at random intervals. The tones were of two distinct pitches, with one occurring frequently (80%) and the other infrequently (20%). Participants were prompted at pseudo-random intervals during the lecture to report their degree of experienced mind wandering. EEG spectral power and event-related potentials (ERP) were compared between states of high and low degrees of self-reported mind wandering. Participants also performed pre/post quizzes based on the lecture material. Results revealed significantly higher delta, theta and alpha band activity during mind wandering, as well as a decreased P2 ERP amplitude. Further, learning scores (improvement on quizzes pre to post) were lower among participants who reported higher degrees of mind wandering throughout the video. The results are consistent with a view that mind wandering during e-learning is characterized by a shift in attention away from the external world and towards internal thoughts, which may be a cause of reduced learning.

Keywords: Electroenceephalography, mind wandering, e-learning, Online lecture, asynchronous lecture, Remote learning

Received: 19 Apr 2021; Accepted: 20 Jul 2021.

Copyright: © 2021 Conrad and Newman. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. Colin Conrad, Dalhousie University, School of Information Management, Halifax, B3H 4R2, Nova Scotia, Canada,