The Functional Convergence and Heterogeneity of Social, Episodic, and Self-Referential Thought in the Default Mode Network.


The default mode network (DMN) is engaged in a variety of cognitive settings, including social, semantic, temporal, spatial, and self-related tasks. Andrews-Hanna et al. (2010; Andrews-Hanna 2012) proposed that the DMN consists of three distinct functional-anatomical subsystems-a dorsal medial prefrontal cortex (dMPFC) subsystem that supports social cognition; a medial temporal lobe (MTL) subsystem that contributes to memory-based scene construction; and a set of midline core hubs that are especially involved in processing self-referential information. We examined activity in the DMN subsystems during six different tasks: 1) theory of mind, 2) moral dilemmas, 3) autobiographical memory, 4) spatial navigation, 5) self/other adjective judgment, and 6) a rest condition. At a broad level, we observed similar whole-brain activity maps for the six contrasts, and some response to every contrast in each of the three subsystems. In more detail, both univariate analysis and multivariate activity patterns showed partial functional separation, especially between dMPFC and MTL subsystems, though with less support for common activity across the midline core. Integrating social, spatial, self-related, and other aspects of a cognitive situation or episode, multiple components of the DMN may work closely together to provide the broad context for current mental activity.