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Neuroimage. 2015 May 1;111:611-21. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2015.02.039. Epub 2015 Feb 25.

The wandering brain: meta-analysis of functional neuroimaging studies of mind-wandering and related spontaneous thought processes.

Author information

1
Department of Psychology, University of British Columbia, 2136 West Mall, Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z4 Canada. Electronic address: kfox@psych.ubc.ca.
2
Laboratory of Brain and Cognition, Department of Human Development, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, USA; Human Neuroscience Institute, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, USA.
3
Department of Psychology, University of British Columbia, 2136 West Mall, Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z4 Canada.
4
Institute of Cognitive Science, University of Colorado Boulder, UCB 594, Boulder, CO, 80309-0594 USA.
5
Department of Psychology, University of British Columbia, 2136 West Mall, Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z4 Canada; Brain Research Centre, University of British Columbia, 2211 Wesbrook Mall, Vancouver, BC V6T 2B5 Canada.

Abstract

The neural basis and cognitive functions of various spontaneous thought processes, particularly mind-wandering, are increasingly being investigated. Although strong links have been drawn between the occurrence of spontaneous thought processes and activation in brain regions comprising the default mode network (DMN), spontaneous thought also appears to recruit other, non-DMN regions just as consistently. Here we present the first quantitative meta-analysis of neuroimaging studies of spontaneous thought and mind-wandering in order to address the question of their neural correlates. Examining 24 functional neuroimaging studies of spontaneous thought processes, we conducted a meta-analysis using activation likelihood estimation (ALE). A number of key DMN areas showed consistent recruitment across studies, including medial prefrontal cortex, posterior cingulate cortex, medial temporal lobe, and bilateral inferior parietal lobule. Numerous non-DMN regions, however, were also consistently recruited, including rostrolateral prefrontal cortex, dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, insula, temporopolar cortex, secondary somatosensory cortex, and lingual gyrus. These meta-analytic results indicate that DMN activation alone is insufficient to adequately capture the neural basis of spontaneous thought; frontoparietal control network areas, and other non-DMN regions, appear to be equally central. We conclude that further progress in the cognitive and clinical neuroscience of spontaneous thought will therefore require a re-balancing of our view of the contributions of various regions and networks throughout the brain, and beyond the DMN.

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