Executive control of internal mentation (i.e. reflecting upon one's past, thinking about one's future, or engaging in other introspective cognitive processes) is critical for successful behavior. Failures to appropriately enhance or suppress attention to internal information form the basis of attentional lapses and memory failures in healthy young and old adults, and represent a hallmark of cognitive dysfunction in Alzheimer's disease. Despite its utmost significance, the neural basis of executive control of internal mentation remains poorly characterized and represents the primary objective of the present proposal. In a series of three main experiments, we aim to 1) examine the anatomy and function of the brain's """"""""default network,"""""""" a brain system thought to play a major role in internal mentation, 2) investigate the neural underpinnings of sustained and transient top-down control of internal mentation separately from external attention and 3) examine the neural mechanisms facilitating rapid switching between external and internal (introspective) modes of attention. A functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) meta-analysis will be first conducted to examine the overlap between the default network and several different introspective tasks to gain insight into the network's overarching function. Next, an fMRI experiment that manipulates demand for control (easy vs. hard trials) and the nature of the task-relevant information (external vs. internal trials) will examine whether similar prefrontal mechanisms bias attention to both introspective and external information. Finally, a separate experiment will examine the behavioral signatures of rapid switching between external and introspective modes of attention as well as the hierarchical neural mechanisms that support this ability. Brain regions that play a role in rapid switching within domains (i.e. switching between different tasks of a similar nature) will be compared to those regions that underlie rapid switching between domains (i.e. switching between internal and external tasks). Knowledge of the neural mechanisms that govern executive control of internal mentation will provide additional insight into the causes of successful and unsuccessful behavior in young adults, will help explain the mechanisms that underlie distractibility and memory failures in advanced aging and AD, and will facilitate the development of cognitive training and rehabilitation paradigms applicable to these populations.

Public Health Relevance

The goal of this proposal is to understand how humans regulate their internal thought processes. Different situations require either enhancement or suppression of internal thought (i.e. taking an exam or driving in a busy city, respectively), yet it remains to be understood these processes are controlled. Knowledge of these mechanisms would provide numerous benefits to older adults by facilitating cognitive training therapies that may reduce distractibility and improve memory over the course of one's lifespan.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Postdoctoral Individual National Research Service Award (F32)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1-F12A-E (20))
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Li, Ingrid Y
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University of Colorado at Boulder
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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O'Callaghan, Claire; Shine, James M; Lewis, Simon J G et al. (2015) Shaped by our thoughts--a new task to assess spontaneous cognition and its associated neural correlates in the default network. Brain Cogn 93:1-10
Andrews-Hanna, Jessica R; Saxe, Rebecca; Yarkoni, Tal (2014) Contributions of episodic retrieval and mentalizing to autobiographical thought: evidence from functional neuroimaging, resting-state connectivity, and fMRI meta-analyses. Neuroimage 91:324-35
Andrews-Hanna, Jessica R; Smallwood, Jonathan; Spreng, R Nathan (2014) The default network and self-generated thought: component processes, dynamic control, and clinical relevance. Ann N Y Acad Sci 1316:29-52
Andrews-Hanna, Jessica R; Kaiser, Roselinde H; Turner, Amy E J et al. (2013) A penny for your thoughts: dimensions of self-generated thought content and relationships with individual differences in emotional wellbeing. Front Psychol 4:900
Andrews-Hanna, Jessica R (2012) The brain's default network and its adaptive role in internal mentation. Neuroscientist 18:251-70