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Having gotten this far, do you remember what you read just a minute ago? Or did your eyes scan the previous five or six sentences without any of that information having been absorbed? And if you did zone out, were you aware of having done so? Reichle et al. have studied precisely this kind of behavior by developing a protocol for interrogating subjects who were reading Sense and Sensibility. One theoretical framework posits that a meta-processor oversees cognitive components that support reading (including oculomotor systems and lexical lookup) and also a default or task-decoupled network that mediates mind wandering. The authors found that people were less likely to fixate for longer durations and that their eye movements were more sensitive to parameters such as word length and frequency when they were reading attentively. On the other hand, when people were reading mindlessly, their awareness of having become decoupled from the text surfaced only after a few minutes.

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Was This 18,000-Year-Old Puppy Frozen in Siberian Permafrost the Ancestor of Wolves, Dogs or Both?
DNA tests on the well-preserved remains can’t determine whether the little canine was wild or domestic.

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Obviously, there are plenty of people that can still be on their phones 24/7 and hold a perfectly pleasant conversation. Those people used to be the majority of the population, but as time goes on they are going to become the minority. Let’s just nip it in the bud now and stop texting, please

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This story is part of Planet or Plastic?—our multiyear effort to raise awareness about the global plastic waste crisis. Learn what you can do to reduce your own single-use plastics, and take your pledge.

Read this story and more in the June 2018 issue of National Geographic magazine.

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