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Understanding Self-Generated Thought - PSY00031H

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  • Department: Psychology
  • Module co-ordinator: Prof. Jonny Smallwood
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: H
  • Academic year of delivery: 2019-20
    • See module specification for other years: 2018-19

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Autumn Term 2019-20

Module aims

The human condition is characterized by thoughts and feelings that emerge with only minimal relationship to the ongoing environment, such as when we daydream about a future vacation or ruminate about a personal problem. This course considers psychological and neuroscientific advances in our understanding of these self-generated thoughts that have occurred over the last decade. It will review the emergence of research on this question from a historical perspective, consider psychological evidence for the role that these processes play in our lives, evaluate the neurocognitive evidence for how these experiences are produced. More generally this course will consider the implication of these experiences for our understanding of the mind and brain.

Module learning outcomes

  • Understand the methods that researchers use to understand the emergence of self-generated thought in both psychology and neuroscience
  • Consider the different aspects of the human condition that are informed by self-generated thoughts, and contrast these with those that are best understood by task based approaches to understanding the mind
  • Understand the costs and benefits that self-generated processes play in the human condition.
  • Develop a basic understanding of the neural architecture that is involved in the production of self-generated thought.

Module content

  • The topics covered in the seminars will include:
  • The historical context
  • The methodological challenges posed by self-constrained thought
  • The philosophical questions that self-generated thought raise for the understanding of the mind
  • The component process account of self-generated thought
  • The neural basis of self-generated thought
  • The costs and benefits that self-generated thought bring to daily life.


Task Length % of module mark
University - closed examination
Understanding Self-Generated Thought
1.5 hours 100

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
University - closed examination
Understanding Self-Generated Thought
1.5 hours 100

Module feedback

The marks on all assessed work will be provided on e-vision.

These marks will be accompanied by module feedback forms which will be circulated by e-mail.

Students will meet supervisors in wk 6 in AuT, SpT and wk 9 in SuT to discuss their marks.

Indicative reading

Sample Reading:

Smallwood, J., & Schooler, J. W. (2006). The restless mind. Psychological bulletin, 132(6), 946.

Schooler, J. W., Smallwood, J., Christoff, K., Handy, T. C., Reichle, E. D., & Sayette, M. A. (2011). Meta-awareness, perceptual decoupling and the wandering mind. Trends in cognitive sciences, 15(7), 319-326.

Smallwood, J. (2013). Distinguishing how from why the mind wanders: a process–occurrence framework for self-generated mental activity. Psychological bulletin, 139(3), 519.

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.

Coronavirus (COVID-19): changes to courses

The 2020/21 academic year will start in September. We aim to deliver as much face-to-face teaching as we can, supported by high quality online alternatives where we must.

Find details of the measures we're planning to protect our community.

Course changes for new students