Indexed on: 14 Dec '11Published on: 14 Dec '11Published in: NeuroImage
During conscious rest, the mind switches into a state of wandering. Although this rich inner experience occupies a large portion of the time spent awake, how it relates to brain activity has not been well explored. Here, we report the results of a behavioral and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study of the continuous resting state in 307 healthy participants. The analysis focused on the relationship between the nature of inner experience and the temporal correlations computed between the low-frequency blood oxygen level-dependent (BOLD) fluctuations (0.01-0.1 Hz) of five large-scale modules. The subjects' self-reported time spontaneously spent on visual mental imagery and/or inner language was used as the behavioral variable. Decreased temporal correlations between modules were revealed when subjects reported more time spent thinking in mental images and inner language. These changes segregated the three modules supporting inner-oriented activities from those associated with sensory-related and externally guided activities. Among the brain areas associated with inner-oriented processing, the module including the lateral parietal and frontal regions (commonly described as being engaged in the manipulation and maintenance of internal information) was implicated in the majority of these effects. The preponderance of segregation appears to be the signature of the spontaneous sequence of thoughts during rest that are not constrained by logic, causality, or even a rigorous temporal organization. In other words, though goal-directed tasks have been demonstrated to rely on specific regional integration, mind wandering can be characterized by widespread modular segregation. Overall, the present study provides evidence that modulation of spontaneous low-frequency fluctuations in the brain is at least partially explained by spontaneous conscious cognition while at rest.