The effect of rule retrieval on activity in the default mode network.


The default mode network (DMN) is often associated with internally-directed cognition, distinct from the constraints of the external environment. However, a recent finding is that the DMN shows strong activation after large task switches during a demanding externally-directed task (Crittenden et al., 2015; Smith et al., 2018). Following other proposals, we have suggested that the DMN encodes cognitive or environmental context, and that context representations are momentarily strengthened during large cognitive switches, perhaps so that new activity can be checked against current environmental constraints. An alternative account, consistent with the role of the DMN in episodic memory, might be that switches to a substantially new task increase demands on rule retrieval. To test this alternative, we directly manipulated rule retrieval demands. Contrary to the retrieval account, increased retrieval demand led to reduced DMN activity, accompanied by increased activation in prefrontal and lateral parietal cognitive control areas. Unlike episodic retrieval, with its rich contextual representations, rule retrieval does not drive DMN activity. Accordingly, it cannot explain increased DMN activity during large cognitive switches.