Core networks for visual-concrete and abstract thought content: a brain electric microstate analysis

Neuroimage. 2010 Jan 1;49(1):1073-9. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2009.07.054. Epub 2009 Jul 29.


Commonality of activation of spontaneously forming and stimulus-induced mental representations is an often made but rarely tested assumption in neuroscience. In a conjunction analysis of two earlier studies, brain electric activity during visual-concrete and abstract thoughts was studied. The conditions were: in study 1, spontaneous stimulus-independent thinking (post-hoc, visual imagery or abstract thought were identified); in study 2, reading of single nouns ranking high or low on a visual imagery scale. In both studies, subjects' tasks were similar: when prompted, they had to recall the last thought (study 1) or the last word (study 2). In both studies, subjects had no instruction to classify or to visually imagine their thoughts, and accordingly were not aware of the studies' aim. Brain electric data were analyzed into functional topographic brain images (using LORETA) of the last microstate before the prompt (study 1) and of the word-type discriminating event-related microstate after word onset (study 2). Conjunction analysis across the two studies yielded commonality of activation of core networks for abstract thought content in left anterior superior regions, and for visual-concrete thought content in right temporal-posterior inferior regions. The results suggest that two different core networks are automatedly activated when abstract or visual-concrete information, respectively, enters working memory, without a subject task or instruction about the two classes of information, and regardless of internal or external origin, and of input modality. These core machineries of working memory thus are invariant to source or modality of input when treating the two types of information.

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Electroencephalography*
  • Evoked Potentials / physiology
  • Functional Laterality
  • Humans
  • Imaging, Three-Dimensional
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Memory / physiology
  • Mental Processes / physiology*
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Visual Perception / physiology*