Intrasubject functional connectivity related to self-generated thoughts

Brain Behav. 2021 Jan;11(1):e01860. doi: 10.1002/brb3.1860. Epub 2020 Dec 15.


Introduction: In psychiatric research, functional connectivity (FC) derived from resting-state functional MRI (rsfMRI) is often used to investigate brain abnormalities in psychiatric disorders. This approach assumes implicitly that FC can recover reliable maps of the functional architecture of the brain and that these profiles of connectivity reflect trait differences underlying pathology. However, evidence of FC related to self-generated thoughts (mind-wandering) stands in contrast with these assumptions, as FC may reflect thought patterns rather than functional architecture.

Methods: Multi-factor analysis (MFA) was used to investigate the reported content of self-generated thoughts during high-field (7T) rsfMRI in a repeated sample of 22 healthy individuals. To investigate the relationship between these experiences and FC, individual scores for each of these dimensions were compared with whole-brain connectivity using the network-based statistic (NBS) method.

Results: This analysis revealed three dimensions of thought content: self-referential thought, negative thoughts about one's surroundings, and thoughts in the form of imagery. A network of connections within the sensorimotor cortices negatively correlated with self-generated thoughts concerning the self was observed (p = .0081, .0486 FDR).

Conclusion: These results suggest a potentially confounding relationship between self-generated thoughts and FC, and contribute to the body of research concerning the functional representation of mind-wandering.

Keywords: data-driven analysis; functional connectivity; mind-wandering; network-based statistic; repeated measures.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain Diseases*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Sensorimotor Cortex*