How Do Students Shift from Task-Related to Task-Unrelated Thoughts?

Seffetullah Kuldas, Shahabuddin Hashim, Hairul Nizam Ismail


Although a growing body of psychological research shows that students’ unconscious thought processes can be task-related, educational research has yet to provide empirical evidence for this relation in a classroom learning context. Educational literature is also inconclusive as to whether students consciously or unconsciously engage in task-unrelated thoughts. A key issue arising from this indistinctness is whether task-unrelated thoughts facilitate or inhibit learning and task performance when students consciously and when unconsciously shift their attention away from task-related thoughts. This review aims to enhance understanding of how students shift from task-related to task-unrelated thoughts. The review presents a wide range of evidence for how the shift happens unconsciously rather than consciously. The unconscious shift as a result of students’ negative emotions can inhibit rather than facilitate learning processes. Further evidence is necessary for the required educational research on how the shift in students’ thoughts happens within the classroom.


Unconscious shift; negative emotion; goal pursuit; mind wandering.

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