Can't get it off my brain: Meta-analysis of neuroimaging studies on perseverative cognition

Psychiatry Res Neuroimaging. 2020 Jan 30:295:111020. doi: 10.1016/j.pscychresns.2019.111020. Epub 2019 Nov 21.


Perseverative cognition (i.e. rumination and worry) describes intrusive, uncontrollable, repetitive thoughts. These negative affective experiences are accompanied by physiological arousal, as if the individual were facing an external stressor. Perseverative cognition is a transdiagnostic symptom, yet studies of neural mechanisms are largely restricted to specific clinical populations (e.g. patients with major depression). The present study applied activation likelihood estimation (ALE) meta-analyses to 43 functional neuroimaging studies of perseverative cognition to elucidate the neurobiological substrates across individuals with and without psychopathological conditions. Task-related and resting state functional connectivity studies were examined in separate meta-analyses. Across task-based studies, perseverative cognition engaged medial frontal gyrus, cingulate gyrus, insula, and posterior cingulate cortex. Resting state functional connectivity studies similarly implicated posterior cingulate cortex together with thalamus and anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), yet the involvement of ACC distinguished between perseverative cognition in healthy controls (HC) and clinical groups. Perseverative cognition is accompanied by the engagement of prefrontal, insula and cingulate regions, whose interaction may support the characteristic conjunction of self-referential and affective processing with (aberrant) cognitive control and embodied (autonomic) arousal. Within this context, ACC engagement appears critical for the pathological expression of rumination and worry.

Keywords: Activation likelihood estimation; Rumination; Worry; fMRI.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Arousal / physiology
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging*
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Female
  • Gyrus Cinguli / diagnostic imaging*
  • Gyrus Cinguli / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Male
  • Rumination, Cognitive / physiology*