Default mode network can support the level of detail in experience during active task states

Edited by Marcus E. Raichle, Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, MO, and approved July 24, 2018 (received for review December 6, 2017)
August 27, 2018
115 (37) 9318-9323

Significance

Accounts of the default mode network (DMN) as task negative are partly based on evidence for a role of this system in off-task thought. We revisited the evidence for this assumption in a study combining experience sampling with functional neuroimaging. Whether thoughts were related or unrelated to an ongoing task was associated with patterns of neural activity in regions adjacent to unimodal sensorimotor cortex. In contrast, during periods of working-memory maintenance, activity patterns in the DMN were associated with whether thoughts were detailed. These results demonstrate that activity within the DMN encodes information associated with ongoing cognition that goes beyond whether attention is directed to the task, including detailed experiences during active task states.

Abstract

Regions of transmodal cortex, in particular the default mode network (DMN), have historically been argued to serve functions unrelated to task performance, in part because of associations with naturally occurring periods of off-task thought. In contrast, contemporary views of the DMN suggest it plays an integrative role in cognition that emerges from its location at the top of a cortical hierarchy and its relative isolation from systems directly involved in perception and action. The combination of these topographical features may allow the DMN to support abstract representations derived from lower levels in the hierarchy and so reflect the broader cognitive landscape. To investigate these contrasting views of DMN function, we sampled experience as participants performed tasks varying in their working-memory load while inside an fMRI scanner. We used self-report data to establish dimensions of thought that describe levels of detail, the relationship to a task, the modality of thought, and its emotional qualities. We used representational similarity analysis to examine correspondences between patterns of neural activity and each dimension of thought. Our results were inconsistent with a task-negative view of DMN function. Distinctions between on- and off-task thought were associated with patterns of consistent neural activity in regions adjacent to unimodal cortex, including motor and premotor cortex. Detail in ongoing thought was associated with patterns of activity within the DMN during periods of working-memory maintenance. These results demonstrate a contribution of the DMN to ongoing cognition extending beyond task-unrelated processing that can include detailed experiences occurring under active task conditions.

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Acknowledgments

This study was supported by awards (to J.S.) from the European Research Council (Wandering Minds 646927) and the Volkswagen Foundation (Wandering Minds 89440 and 89439), and the John Templeton Foundation, “Prospective Psychology Stage 2: A Research Competition” and Grant FLEXSEM 771863 (to E.J.).

Supporting Information

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Information & Authors

Information

Published in

Go to Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Go to Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Vol. 115 | No. 37
September 11, 2018
PubMed: 30150393

Classifications

Submission history

Published online: August 27, 2018
Published in issue: September 11, 2018

Keywords

  1. default model network
  2. principal gradient
  3. mind wandering
  4. representational similarity analysis

Acknowledgments

This study was supported by awards (to J.S.) from the European Research Council (Wandering Minds 646927) and the Volkswagen Foundation (Wandering Minds 89440 and 89439), and the John Templeton Foundation, “Prospective Psychology Stage 2: A Research Competition” and Grant FLEXSEM 771863 (to E.J.).

Notes

This article is a PNAS Direct Submission.

Authors

Affiliations

Department of Psychology, University of York, Heslington, York YO10 5DD, United Kingdom;
Charlotte Murphy
Department of Psychology, University of York, Heslington, York YO10 5DD, United Kingdom;
Hao-ting Wang
Department of Psychology, University of York, Heslington, York YO10 5DD, United Kingdom;
Mark Hymers
Department of Psychology, University of York, Heslington, York YO10 5DD, United Kingdom;
Theodoros Karapanagiotidis
Department of Psychology, University of York, Heslington, York YO10 5DD, United Kingdom;
Giulia Poerio
Department of Psychology, The University of Sheffield, Western Bank, Sheffield S10 2TN, United Kingdom;
Daniel S. Margulies
Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) UMR 7225, Frontlab, Institut du Cerveau et de la Moelle Épinière, Paris, France
Elizabeth Jefferies
Department of Psychology, University of York, Heslington, York YO10 5DD, United Kingdom;
Jonathan Smallwood1 [email protected]
Department of Psychology, University of York, Heslington, York YO10 5DD, United Kingdom;

Notes

1
To whom correspondence may be addressed. Email: [email protected] or [email protected].
Author contributions: M.S. and H.-t.W. designed research; M.S., C.M., and G.P. performed research; M.S., C.M., M.H., and T.K. contributed new reagents/analytic tools; M.S. and J.S. analyzed data; M.S., D.S.M., E.J., and J.S. wrote the paper; and D.S.M. and E.J. contributed to development of themes in the writing of the paper.

Competing Interests

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

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    Default mode network can support the level of detail in experience during active task states
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
    • Vol. 115
    • No. 37
    • pp. 9045-E8814

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