The neural basis of unwanted thoughts during resting state

Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2014 Sep;9(9):1320-4. doi: 10.1093/scan/nst117. Epub 2013 Aug 7.


Human beings are constantly engaged in thought. Sometimes thoughts occur repetitively and can become distressing. Up to now the neural bases of these intrusive or unwanted thoughts is largely unexplored. To study the neural correlates of unwanted thoughts, we acquired resting-state fMRI data of 41 female healthy subjects and assessed the self-reported amount of unwanted thoughts during measurement. We analyzed local connectivity by means of regional homogeneity (ReHo) and functional connectivity of a seed region. More unwanted thoughts (state) were associated with lower ReHo in right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) and higher ReHo in left striatum (putamen). Additional seed-based analysis revealed higher functional connectivity of the left striatum with left inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) in participants reporting more unwanted thoughts. The state-dependent higher connectivty in left striatum was positively correlated with rumination assessed with a dedicated questionnaire focussing on trait aspects. Unwanted thoughts are associated with activity in the fronto-striatal brain circuitry. The reduction of local connectivity in DLPFC could reflect deficiencies in thought suppression processes, whereas the hightened activity in left striatum could imply an imbalance of gating mechanisms housed in basal ganglia. Its functional connectivity to left IFG is discussed as the result of thought-related speech processes.

Keywords: dorsolateral prefrontal cortex; intrusive thoughts; resting state; rumination; striatum.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Brain / blood supply
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Neural Pathways / blood supply
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Rest / physiology*
  • Self Report
  • Statistics as Topic
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Thinking / physiology*
  • Young Adult


  • Oxygen