Individual variation in patterns of task focused, and detailed, thought are uniquely associated within the architecture of the medial temporal lobe

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Understanding the neural processes that support different patterns of ongoing thought is an important goal of contemporary cognitive neuroscience. Early accounts assumed the default mode network (DMN) was especially important for conscious attention to task-irrelevant/personally relevant material. However, simple task-negative accounts of the DMN are incompatible with more recent evidence that neural patterns within the system can be related to ongoing processing during active task states. To better characterize the contribution of the DMN to ongoing thought, we conducted a cross-sectional analysis of the relationship between the structural organisation of the brain, as indexed by cortical thickness, and patterns of experience, identified using experience sampling in the cognitive laboratory. In a sample of 181 healthy individuals (mean age 20 years, 117 females) we identified an association between cortical thickness in the anterior parahippocampus and patterns of task focused thought, as well as an adjacent posterior region in which cortical thickness was associated with experiences with higher levels of subjective detail. Both regions fell within regions of medial temporal lobe associated with the DMN, yet varied in their functional connectivity: the time series of signals in the ‘on-task’ region were more correlated with systems important for external task-relevant processing (as determined by meta-analysis) including the dorsal and ventral attention, and fronto-parietal networks. In contrast, connectivity within the region linked to subjective ‘detail’ was more correlated with the medial core of the DMN (posterior cingulate and the medial pre-frontal cortex) and regions of primary visual cortex. These results provide cross-sectional evidence that confirms a role of the DMN in how detailed experiences are and so provide further evidence that the role of this system in experience is not simply task-irrelevant. Our results also highlight processes within the medial temporal lobe, and their interactions with other regions of cortex as important in determining multiple aspects of how human cognition unfolds.
Original languageEnglish
Article number116045
Early online date23 Jul 2019
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 23 Jul 2019

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© 2019 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. This is an author-produced version of the published paper. Uploaded in accordance with the publisher’s self-archiving policy.


  • Cortical thickness
  • Default mode network
  • Medial temporal lobe
  • Parahippocampus
  • Ongoing thought

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