A correspondence between individual differences in the brain's intrinsic functional architecture and the content and form of self-generated thoughts.
Gorgolewski KJ., Lurie D., Urchs S., Kipping JA., Craddock RC., Milham MP., Margulies DS., Smallwood J.
Although neural activity often reflects the processing of external inputs, intrinsic fluctuations in activity have been observed throughout the brain. These may relate to patterns of self-generated thought that can occur while not performing goal-driven tasks. To understand the relationship between self-generated mental activity and intrinsic neural fluctuations, we developed the New York Cognition Questionnaire (NYC-Q) to assess the content and form of an individual's experiences during the acquisition of resting-state fMRI data. The data were collected as a part of the Nathan Kline Rockland Enhanced sample. We decomposed NYC-Q scores using exploratory factor analysis and found that self-reported thoughts clustered into distinct dimensions of content (future related, past related, positive, negative, and social) and form (words, images, and specificity). We used these components to perform an individual difference analysis exploring how differences in the types of self-generated thoughts relate to whole brain measures of intrinsic brain activity (fractional amplitude of low frequency fluctuations, regional homogeneity, and degree centrality). We found patterns of self-generated thoughts related to changes that were distributed across a wide range of cortical areas. For example, individuals who reported greater imagery exhibited greater low frequency fluctuations in a region of perigenual cingulate cortex, a region that is known to participate in the so-called default-mode network. We also found certain forms of thought were associated with other areas, such as primary visual cortex, the insula, and the cerebellum. For example, individuals who reported greater future thought exhibited less homogeneous neural fluctuations in a region of lateral occipital cortex, a result that is consistent with the claim that particular types of self-generated thought depend on processes that are decoupled from sensory processes. These data provide evidence that self-generated thought is a heterogeneous category of experience and that studying its content can be helpful in understanding brain dynamics.