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PLoS One. 2015 Jun 30;10(6):e0132209. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0132209. eCollection 2015.

Shaped by the Past: The Default Mode Network Supports Cognition that Is Independent of Immediate Perceptual Input.

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Department of Psychology & York Neuroimaging Centre, University of York, York, United Kingdom.
Department of Neurology, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, United States of America.
Department of Social Neuroscience, Max Plank Institute for Human Cognitive Brain Sciences, Leipzig, Germany.


Although many different accounts of the functions of the default mode network (DMN) have been proposed, few can adequately account for the spectrum of different cognitive functions that utilize this network. The current study used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to explore the hypothesis that the role of the DMN in higher order cognition is to allow cognition to be shaped by information from stored representations rather than information in the immediate environment. Using a novel task paradigm, we observed increased BOLD activity in regions of the medial prefrontal cortex and posterior cingulate cortex when individuals made decisions on the location of shapes from the prior trial and decreased BOLD activity when individuals made decisions on the location of shapes on the current trial. These data are inconsistent with views of the DMN as a task-negative system or one that is sensitive only to stimuli with strong personal or emotional ties. Instead the involvement of the DMN when people make decisions about where a shape was, rather than where it is now, supports the hypothesis that the core hubs of the DMN allow cognition to be guided by information other than the immediate perceptual input. We propose that a variety of different forms of higher order thought (such as imagining the future or considering the perspective of another person) engage the DMN because these more complex introspective forms of higher order thought all depend on the capacity for cognition to be shaped by representations that are not present in the external environment.

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