Individual Differences in Working Memory Capacity, Attention Control, Fluid Intelligence, and Pupillary Measures of Arousal

Matthew K. Robison, Gene A. Brewer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


The present study examined individual differences in 3 cognitive abilities: attention control (AC), working memory capacity (WMC), and fluid intelligence (gF) as they relate the tendency to experience task-unrelated thoughts (TUTs) and the regulation of arousal. Cognitive abilities were measured with a battery of 9 laboratory tasks, TUTs were measured via thought probes inserted into 2 tasks, and arousal regulation was measured via pupillometry. Recent theorizing (Unsworth & Robison, 2017b) suggests that 1 reason why some people experience relatively frequent TUTs and relatively poor cognitive performance—especially AC and WMC—is that they exhibit dysregulated arousal. Here, we examined how arousal regulation might predict both AC and WMC, but also higher-order cognitive abilities like gF. Further, we examine direct and indirect associations with these abilities via a mediating influence of TUT. Participants who reported more TUTs also tended to exhibit poorer AC, lower WMC, and lower gF. Arousal dysregulation correlated with more TUTs and lower AC. However, there was no direct correlation between arousal regulation and WMC, nor between arousal regulation and gF. The association between arousal regulation and gF was indirect via TUT. We discuss the implications of the results in light of the arousal regulation theory of individual differences and directions for future research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1296-1310
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Learning Memory and Cognition
Issue number9
StatePublished - Apr 7 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • Attention control
  • Fluid intelligence
  • Mind-wandering
  • Pupillometry
  • Working memory capacity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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