Accidental thinking: the serendipitous cognition model

Ross, Wendy (2024) Accidental thinking: the serendipitous cognition model. Review of General Psychology. ISSN 1089-2680 (In Press)


Serendipity captures the interaction between a skilled human agent and a fortuitous event in the environment. Although it features in many stories of invention and discovery, its antecedents remain elusive. This paper combines research from different domains of psychology to present a model of the cognitive processes required for a serendipitous episode to occur. The model describes a prepared mind that consists of an informational state and an attentional state. Both states are continually updating. An accident is considered as a trigger event that updates both of these and feeds information back into the prepared mind. If the accident is noticed, a cycle of judgement and amplification occurs, eventually leading to an output. The model generates novel predictions that point to an increased understanding of how best to scaffold serendipitous moments.

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