The role of the default mode network in component processes underlying the wandering mind.
Poerio GL., Sormaz M., Wang H-T., Margulies D., Jefferies E., Smallwood J.
Experiences such as mind-wandering illustrate that cognition is not always tethered to events in the here-and-now. Although converging evidence emphasises the default mode network (DMN) in mind-wandering, its precise contribution remains unclear. The DMN comprises cortical regions that are maximally distant from primary sensory and motor cortex, a topological location that may support the stimulus-independence of mind-wandering. The DMN is functionally heterogeneous, comprising regions engaged by memory, social cognition and planning; processes relevant to mind-wandering content. Our study examined the relationships between: (i) individual differences in resting-state DMN connectivity, (ii) performance on memory, social and planning tasks and (iii) variability in spontaneous thought, to investigate whether the DMN is critical to mind-wandering because it supports stimulus-independent cognition, memory retrieval, or both. Individual variation in task performance modulated the functional organization of the DMN: poor external engagement was linked to stronger coupling between medial and dorsal subsystems, while decoupling of the core from the cerebellum predicted reports of detailed memory retrieval. Both patterns predicted off-task future thoughts. Consistent with predictions from component process accounts of mind-wandering, our study suggests a 2-fold involvement of the DMN: (i) it supports experiences that are unrelated to the environment through strong coupling between its sub-systems; (ii) it allows memory representations to form the basis of conscious experience.