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Absent-mindedness is a preoccupation of the mind to the point where there is a lack of attention to the subjects behaviour of environment. It is one of Daniel Schacter's The Seven Sins of Memory.

Absent-mindedness can refer to three very different things:

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

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Wiktionary: Absent-mindedness


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, and some are extremely serious, such as failures of attention that cause accidents, injury, and loss of life [1]. Beyond the obvious costs of accidents arising from lapses in attention there is lost time, efficiency, personal productivity, and quality of life 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 [2]. 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[3].

Memory aspects

Absent-mindedness is related to memory failures. For example, Schachter treats absent-mindedness as one of the seven sins of memory[4] created by Daniel Schacter. It is specifically under the subcategory, sin of omission[5]. Absent-mindedness is simply a failure in attention, involving an overlap between both attention and memory in both the encoding and retrieval stage of memory. Absent-minded memory failures occur when one is distracted with issues or concerns, and he/she is unable to focus on things needed to remember. For example, Schacter exemplified the conditions of misplacing one's keys or glasses. It is clear, however, even from this brief description, that the primary problem in absent-mindedness is one of attention. Recent research has reported that attention lapses may be direct causes of both memory failures as well as action slips.[6] [7]

See also

References & Bibliography

  1. Carriere, J. S. A., Cheyne, J. A., & Smilek, D. (in press). Everyday Attention Lapses and Memory Failures: The Affective Consequences of Mindlessness. Consciousness and Cognition.
  2. Robertson, I. H. (2003). The absent mind attention and error. The Psychologist, 16, 9, 476-479.
  3. 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.
  4. Schacter, D. L. (2001). The Seven Sins of Memory: How the mind forgets and remembers. Boston, MA: Houghtin-Mifflin.
  5. Cheyne, J. A., Carriere, J. S. A., & Smilek, D. (2006). Absent-mindedness: Lapses in conscious awareness and everyday cognitive failures. Consciousness and Cognition, 15, 578-592.
  6. Carriere, J. S. A., Cheyne, J. A., & Smilek, D. (in press). Everyday Attention Lapses and Memory Failures: The Affective Consequences of Mindlessness. Consciousness and Cognition.
  7. Robertson, I. H. (2003). The absent mind attention and error. The Psychologist, 16, 9, 476-479.

Key texts


  • Harris,J.E. and Morris,P.E. {1984) (eds) Everyday Memory, Actions and Absentmindedness, London: Academic Press.


  • Reason, J.T. (1984) Absentmindedness and cognitive control. In: J.E. Harris and P.E. Morris (eds) Everyday Memory, Actions and Absentmindedness, London: Academic Press.

Additional material



External links

Aspects of attention
Absent-mindedness | Attentional control | Attention span | Attentional shift | Attention management | Attentional blink | Attentional bias | Attention economy | Attention and emotion | Attention optimization | Change blindness | Concentration |Dichotic listening | Directed attention fatigue | Distraction | Distractibility | Divided attention | Hyperfocus | Inattentional blindness | Mindfulness |Mind-wandering | Meditation | Salience | Selective attention | Selective inattention | Signal detection theory | Sustained attention | Vigilance | Visual search |
Developmental aspects of attention
centration | [[]] |
Neuroanatomy of attention
Attention versus memory in prefrontal cortex | Default mode network | Dorsal attention network | Medial geniculate nucleus | | Neural mechanisms | Ventral attention network | Intraparietal sulcus |
Neurochemistry of attention
Glutamatergic system  | [[]] |
Attention in clinical settings
ADHD | ADHD contoversy | ADD | AADD | Attention and aging | Attention restoration theory | Attention seeking | Attention training | Centering | Distractability | Hypervigilance | Hyperprosexia | Cognitive-shifting | Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy |
Attention in educational settings
Concentration |
Assessing attention
Benton | Continuous Performance Task | TOMM | Wechsler Memory Scale |
Treating attention problems
CBT | Psychotherapy |
Prominant workers in attention
Baddeley | Broadbent | [[]] | Treisman | Cave |


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