How do we decide what to do? Resting-state connectivity patterns and components of self-generated thought linked to the development of more concrete personal goals

Exp Brain Res. 2018 Sep;236(9):2469-2481. doi: 10.1007/s00221-016-4729-y. Epub 2016 Jul 21.


Human cognition is not limited to the available environmental input but can consider realities that are different to the here and now. We describe the cognitive states and neural processes linked to the refinement of descriptions of personal goals. When personal goals became concrete, participants reported greater thoughts about the self and the future during mind-wandering. This pattern was not observed for descriptions of TV programmes. Connectivity analysis of participants who underwent a resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging scan revealed neural traits associated with this pattern. Strong hippocampal connectivity with ventromedial pre-frontal cortex was common to better-specified descriptions of goals and TV programmes, while connectivity between hippocampus and the pre-supplementary motor area was associated with individuals whose goals were initially abstract but became more concrete over the course of the experiment. We conclude that self-generated cognition that arises during the mind-wandering state can allow goals to be refined, and this depends on neural systems anchored in the hippocampus.

Keywords: Future thought; Goals; Hippocampus; Mind-wandering.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Connectome / methods*
  • Decision Making / physiology*
  • Female
  • Goals*
  • Hippocampus / diagnostic imaging
  • Hippocampus / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Motor Cortex / diagnostic imaging
  • Motor Cortex / physiology*
  • Nerve Net / diagnostic imaging
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / diagnostic imaging
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Thinking / physiology*
  • Young Adult