The neural correlates of ongoing conscious thought

Jonathan Smallwood*, Adam Turnbull, Hao ting Wang, Nerissa S.P. Ho, Giulia L. Poerio, Theodoros Karapanagiotidis, Delali Konu, Brontë Mckeown, Meichao Zhang, Charlotte Murphy, Deniz Vatansever, Danilo Bzdok, Mahiko Konishi, Robert Leech, Paul Seli, Jonathan W. Schooler, Boris Bernhardt, Daniel S. Margulies, Elizabeth Jefferies

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


A core goal in cognitive neuroscience is identifying the physical substrates of the patterns of thought that occupy our daily lives. Contemporary views suggest that the landscape of ongoing experience is heterogeneous and can be influenced by features of both the person and the context. This perspective piece considers recent work that explicitly accounts for both the heterogeneity of the experience and context dependence of patterns of ongoing thought. These studies reveal that systems linked to attention and control are important for organizing experience in response to changing environmental demands. These studies also establish a role of the default mode network beyond task-negative or purely episodic content, for example, implicating it in the level of vivid detail in experience in both task contexts and in spontaneous self-generated experiential states. Together, this work demonstrates that the landscape of ongoing thought is reflected in the activity of multiple neural systems, and it is important to distinguish between processes contributing to how the experience unfolds from those linked to how these experiences are regulated. Cognitive Neuroscience; Psychology; Techniques in Neuroscience

Original languageEnglish
Article number102132
Issue number3
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 1 Feb 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by a European Research Council consolidator award to the first author (WANDERINGMINDS - 646927 ). E.J. was supported by a European Research Council consolidator award (FLEXSEM – 771863 ).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Authors

Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Psychology
  • Techniques in Neuroscience

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