Interactions between the neural correlates of dispositional internally directed thought and visual imagery: Internal thought and visual imagery

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Cognition is not always directed to the events in the here and now and we often self-generate thoughts and images in imagination. Important aspects of these self-generated experiences are associated with various dispositional traits. In this study, we explored whether these psychological associations relate to a common underlying neurocognitive mechanism. We acquired resting state functional magnetic resonance imaging data from a large cohort of participants and asked them to retrospectively report their experience during the scan. Participants also completed questionnaires reflecting a range of dispositional traits. We found thoughts emphasizing visual imagery at rest were associated with dispositional tendency towards internally directed attention (self-consciousness and attentional problems) and linked to a stronger correlation between a posterior parietal network and a lateral frontooral network. Furthermore, decoupling between the brainstem and a lateral visual network was associated with dispositional internally directed attention. Critically, these brain-cognition associations were related: The correlation between parietal-frontal regions and reports of visual imagery was stronger for individuals with increased connectivity between brainstem and visual cortex. Our results highlight neural mechanisms linked to the dispositional basis for patterns of self-generated thought, and suggest that accounting for dispositional traits is important when exploring the neural substrates of self-generated experience (and vice versa). This article is part of the theme issue 'Offline perception: Voluntary and spontaneous perceptual experiences without matching external stimulation'.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20190691
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1817
Early online date14 Dec 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Data accessibility. This human subject dataset cannot be made publicly available owing to restrictions with permissions. The data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request. Authors’ contributions. T.K., E.J. and J.S. designed the research; T.K. performed the research; T.K. and J.S. contributed analytic tools; T.K. analysed data; and T.K. and J.S. wrote the paper. Competing interests. We declare we have no competing interests. Funding. This work was supported by a European Research Council award to J.S. (grant no. WANDERINGMINDS - 646927). Acknowledgements. The authors would like to thank Giulia Poerio, Deniz Vatansever, Mladen Sormaz, Charlotte Murphy and Hao-Ting Wang for their help.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 The Author(s).


  • dispositional traits
  • self-generated experience
  • visual imagery

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