The default network and the combination of cognitive processes that mediate self-generated thought

Vadim Axelrod, Geraint Rees, Moshe Bar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Scopus citations


Self-generated cognitions, such as recalling personal memories or empathizing with others, are ubiquitous and essential for our lives. Such internal mental processing is ascribed to the default mode network - a large network of the human brain - although the underlying neural and cognitive mechanisms remain poorly understood. Here, we tested the hypothesis that our mental experience is mediated by a combination of activities of multiple cognitive processes. Our study included four functional magnetic resonance imaging experiments with the same participants and a wide range of cognitive tasks, as well as an analytical approach that afforded the identification of cognitive processes during self-generated cognition. We showed that several cognitive processes functioned simultaneously during self-generated mental activity. The processes had specific and localized neural representations, suggesting that they support different aspects of internal processing. Overall, we demonstrate that internally directed experience may be achieved by pooling over multiple cognitive processes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)896-910
Number of pages15
JournalNature Human Behaviour
Issue number12
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the Yad Hanadiv Rothschild fellowship (to V.A.), the Wellcome Trust (to G.R.) and the Israeli Center of Research Excellence in Cognitive Sciences (to M.B.). We also thank K. Siuda-Krzywicka and S. Schwarzkopf for advice, and N. Hale for technical assistance. No funders had any role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 The Author(s).


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