Using Daydreaming and Mind-Wandering to Enhance the Brand Perception

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Table of Contents

  • The Wandering Mind
  • Distinguishing Mind-Wandering
  • Research on Mind-Wandering
  • Opportunities for Wandering Mind to Enhance Brand Experience: Hypothesis Development
  • Research Overview

The Wandering Mind

A growing body of neuroscience research shows that mind-wandering involves the default mode network, which is an important brain network engaging many cognitive processes and regions on the internal surface of the brain (Christoff et al. 2016). When people engage in mind-wandering, the default mode network is active, which is similar to a brain at wakeful rest. Key regions of the default mode network overlap with the hedonic network (Konjedi and Maleeh 2017) suggesting that mind-wandering may interwoven with hedonic consumption experiences.

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In psychology, Smallwood and Schooler (2006) were the first to label “mind-wandering” as a cognitive experience. Prior to that, mind-wandering was framed in discussions about task-unrelated thought (Giambra 1995), stimulus-independent thought (Antrobus 1968), daydreaming (Singer 1975), spontaneous thought (Antrobus, Singer and Greenberg 1966), and mind pops (Kvavilashvili and Mandler 2004). For example, mind-wandering is classified into spontaneous-thought phenomena that also includes dreams, random thoughts, creative thoughts and so on (Christoff et al. 2016). The term “self-generated thought” captures both the “arising from intrinsic self” and “independent from extrinsic events” characteristics of mind-wandering (Smallwood and Schooler 2015).

Mind-wandering occurs when consumers shift their attention away from the current task and environment toward internal thoughts, feelings and daydreams (Smallwood and Schooler 2006). This phenomenon is more likely to occur when a task is simple or automatic, and it often occurs without intention and even awareness (Smallwood and Schooler 2006). However, recent studies propose that lack of consciousness is not a prerequisite for mind-wandering, that is, people could intentionally or unintentionally engage in mind-wandering (Seli, Risko, and Smilek 2016). Smallwood and Schooler (2015) call for greater research focus on mind-wandering’s intentionality. Mind-wandering is defined in our research investigation as “the conscious processing of information that is unrelated to immediate sensory input and to the task currently being performed” (Smallwood, Mrazek, and Schooler 2011, 1072).

Distinguishing Mind-Wandering

In marketing, Rahinel and Ahluwalia (2015) introduce a spectrum of targets of one’s attention with experiencing mode at one end where attention is focused on perceptions and cognitions related to the environment, and mind-wandering at the other end where attention is focused on stimuli-independent thoughts, feelings or daydreams.

Mindfulness can be viewed as the experiencing mode with “an enhanced attention to and open nonjudgmental awareness of what is going on at the present moment” (Van De Veer et al. 2016, 785). It is a state of being fully present (Brown and Ryan 2003), while during mind-wandering people tend to think of a different time or place.

Mind-wandering is different than distraction. The operationalization of distraction is to direct participants to do another unrelated task on which the attention is still focused (Shiv and Nowlis 2004). In mind-wandering there is no clear focus; instead consumers occupy themselves with internal thoughts and feelings.

Mind-wandering is different than mindlessness. Mindlessness means that the “actor interacts with environment in a passive reactive manner” (Deighton 1983). Mind-wandering suggests that attention is decoupled from environment. Both concepts suggest the consumer is acting in a manner as if their mind is absent from their body. However, there are important differences: mindless emphasizes that consumers do not use their minds such as mindless eating, while consumers’ minds are still very active when mind-wandering.

Mind-wandering is similar to daydreaming. Both states are characterized by self-generated mental activity. The term mind-wandering has more recently replaced the term daydreaming in the academic literature (Callard et al. 2013). Researchers have found that daydreaming involves “high degrees of cognitive elaboration” (MacInnis and Price 1987, 475). There can be different types of mind-wandering–spontaneous trains of thought and focused daydreaming. Consumers might be aware of thought content when in focused daydreaming; in contrast, they might not realize their minds have been wandering when in a spontaneous train of thought until interrupted (Dorsch 2015).

Research on Mind-Wandering

Mind-wandering can involve thinking about the past, future and unrealistic imaginations. Previous literature reveals a future or “prospective bias” in mind-wandering thoughts across cultures (Smallwood and Schooler 2015, 496). Future-related thoughts have been found to relate to positive moods, while past-related thoughts to be associated with negative moods during mind-wandering (Ruby et al. 2013).

As reviewed earlier, the majority of research has considered mind-wandering’s negative effects on emotion and attention. In terms of its effect on experience, researchers find that mind-wandering to be a metacognitive cue for boredom (Critcher and Gilovitch 2010). However, there are other researchers who have viewed mind-wandering as a positive mental activity resulting in positive affect. Mind-wandering can facilitate creative problem solving (Baird et al. 2012), involve autobiographical planning (Baird, Smallwood, and Schooler 2011) and help delaying gratification (Smallwood Ruby and Singer 2013).

We argue the negative bias in the research on mind-wandering is partly due to a focus on contexts that are task-related or goal-directed activities. Many consumer brand activities are not task-related or goal-directed. Franklin et al (2013) found that mind-wandering was a complicated activity to study, and quite context dependent. Those researchers concluded that while in general people in a negative mood may mind-wander, when one considers the content of those thoughts, there is a different experience (where more positive thoughts can elevate a negative mood). In fact, wandering to positive thoughts can broaden attention and lead to more positive feelings than if one were focused on the present moment (Jazaieri et al. 2015).

To date we are aware of only two papers on mind-wandering published in marketing journals, and two papers published by marketing scholars in psychology journals. The two papers in marketing journals focused on the negative aspects of mind-wandering on attention and memory (Rahinel and Ahluwalia 2015; Chinchanachokchai et al. 2019), and two articles published in psychology journals offered potential for considering the more beneficial aspects of mind-wandering on decision making (Giblin, Morewedge and Norton 2013; Morewedge, Giblin and Norton 2014).

In both psychology and marketing the preponderance of research has been on mindful consumption rather than mind-wandering (see Table 1). We did a google scholar analysis and found 1050 articles mentioning mind-wandering, 65200 mentioning mindful or mindfulness behavior. Further, after reviewing the major articles in psychology on mind-wandering, the majority has focused on the negative effects.

Opportunities for Wandering Mind to Enhance Brand Experience: Hypothesis Development

Although there is no direct literature linking mind-wandering and consumer brand experiences, there is some related work. We begin by discussing the potential for mind-wandering to enrich the consumer experience. We then develop hypotheses that compare the effects of mind-wandering to mindfulness on brand consumption experiences.

Researchers have found that mind-wandering during the decision-making stage can improve satisfaction with that decision (Giblin, Morewedge and Norton 2013). One explanation is that consumers perceive mind-wandering as a meaningful process because it spontaneously arises from internal rather than external reasons (Morewedge, Giblin and Norton 2014).

Mind-wandering may improve consumers’ feeling of enrichment by offering a myriad of mental episodes. Mind-wandering improves a diverse mental exploration involved in creative thinking (Baird et al. 2012). Therefore, consumers may accord enriched meaning to mind-wandering and this effect can extend to how they experience products.

Several qualitative consumer theorists have recognized that daydreaming occurring during consumption is a pleasurable part of the consumption experience (Jenkins et al. 2011; Holbrook and Hirschman 1982). Specifically, Stevens and MacLaran (2005, 282) indicate that daydreaming transports consumers to an idealized space which serves as a way for them to “celebrate” their experience of browsing women’s magazines. In these studies, most daydreams involve positive mental imagery around desired products or longing experiences, indicating the power of imagination to enrich consumers’ experience (d’Astous and Deschênes 2005).

We therefore offer the following:

Mind-wandering (versus mindfulness) improves consumption experience (i.e. consumers’ enjoyment and patronage intention) through enhancing a feeling of enrichment. What makes the mind-wandering experience different in the consumer brand experience setting compared to more general psychological research is that the content of mind-wandering might overcome the current experience, which may be of benefit when the experience itself is not high quality or distinct. Positive thought contents during mind-wandering can enhance positive affect (Franklin et al. 2013), and negative thought contents are associated with subsequent negative affect (Ruby et al. 2013). Franklin et al. (2013) examined particular types of mind-wandering in which thoughts were useful, novel and interesting and found they could enhance positive mood. Even though the contents of daydreaming may not be highly interesting or positive, daydreaming is often associated with social relationships and thinking about those relationships can improve happiness and feeling of connection (Poerio et al. 2015).

Mindfulness is deliberate attention to the present task (Brown and Ryan, 2003). When consumers mindfully consume they should be fundamentally driven by the actual quality of products. The enhanced states of focused attention during mindfulness would amplify the role of product quality on judgment. We therefore offer the following:

Mind-wandering (versus mindfulness) during a consumption experience leads to brand attitudes consonant with the valence of mind-wandering thoughts, whereas mindful consumption leads to brand attitudes consonant with the actual quality of the product. There is a distinction between the impact of mind-wandering and mindfulness on brand memory and brand connection. Mindfulness has been demonstrated to improve memory (Mrazek et al. 2013) while mind-wandering has been shown to impair memory (Delaney et al. 2010). Chinchanachokchai et al. (2019) specifically show a negative impact of mind-wandering on consumers’ memory for advertising content.

Self-connection refers to “the extent to which individuals have incorporated brand into their self-concept” (Escalas and Bettman 2005, 379). Escalas and Bettman (2005) suggest that forming brand connections occurs when the consumer and brand share similar values, such as being environmentally friendly. But this connection can also be created less directly, such as through incidental exposure (Ferraro, Bettman and Chartrand 2009). Similarly, Shen and Sengupta (2018) demonstrate that spontaneous communication is more likely to generate self-related thoughts than deliberative communication, thereby improving self-brand connection. As a form of spontaneous thought, mind-wandering should reveal more meaningful information about the self (Morewedge, Giblin, and Norton 2014). Thus, we propose:

The mindful consumer will have better brand memory for the target experience, while the mind-wandering consumer rate the brand as being more connected to their self-identities. There has not been much research in investigating how the content of mind-wandering influences self-connection with brands. Smallwood, Nind, and O’Connor (2009, 120) classified mind-wandering thoughts into “attention directed to the task (here and now),” “a personal event from past,” and “an upcoming personal event.” Researchers have mostly considered how minds might wander to future chores or work activities which can help in autobiographical planning (Baird, Smallwood and Schooler 2011). However, Smallwood, Nind, and O’Connor (2009) suggest that thoughts during mind-wandering can be primed by the connection between people’s current tasks and their life history. Thus mind-wandering as a form of mental time travel allows consumers to connect with their past selves (Smallwood and Andrews-Hanna 2013). When people reminisce, they can relive their autobiographical experiences such as childhood memories, and extract symbolic meaning from them even the experiences have long passed (Braun-LaTour, LaTour and Zinkhan 2007). Therefore mind-wandering could enhance consumers’ self-connection with brands through invoking thoughts “rich in autobiographical associations” (Smallwood et al. 2009, 123). We propose:

Mind-wandering to autobiographical experiences will enhance consumers’ connection to the brand (compared to wandering to other types of information).

Research Overview

Study 1 is a qualitative study designed to enhance our understanding of the mind-wandering experience. Study 2 uses the “read and imagine” scenario from Rahinel and Ahluwalia (2015) where we consider how mind-wandering versus experience/mindful attention influences enjoyment and patronage, with enrichment as a mediator, testing H1.

We then build on research in mindful consumption and mind-wandering concerning the driving force of the brand attitude (quality of experience in mindful versus valence of thoughts in mind-wandering) to test H2. In Study 3 we vary the product quality and instruct consumers to either mindfully evaluate the product or mind-wander during the experience. For H3, we posit asymmetric effects on brand memory and brand connection from mindful and mind-wandering mindsets given the different foci of attention. We find initial evidence useful for testing H4.

In Study 4 we use different branding slogans to direct consumers’ mindsets. We added a distraction condition to differentiate the effects of mind-wandering/mindfulness. The benefits of distraction in product evaluation has been identified (Shiv and Nowlis 2004) where it may enhance brand feelings more than brand cognition. Arch et al. (2016) demonstrated that mindfulness, compared to distraction, could enhance the enjoyment of a commonly pleasurable food. However, there has not yet been research that compared mindful, mind-wandering and distraction on attitudes and memory of brand experience.  

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