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.


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, or loss of life . 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 . 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.

Memory aspects

Absent-mindedness is related to memory failures. For example, Schachter treats absent-mindedness as one of the seven sins of memory created by Daniel Schacter. It is specifically under the subcategory, sin of omission. 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.


See also

Further reading

  • Reason, J. T. (1982). Absent-minded? The Psychology of Mental Lapses and Everyday Errors. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall.
  • Reason, J. T. (1984). Lapses of attention in everyday life. In R. Parasuraman & D. R. Davies (Eds.), Varieties of attention. New York: Academic Press.
  • Reason, J. T. (1990). Human Error. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

External links

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