Host: Aaron Kucyi
Abstract: Sustaining attention is challenging and in reality our attention fluctuates. Though these fluctuations have been linked to spontaneous activity in the brain’s default mode network (DMN) as well as task-positive attention networks (TPNs), several inconsistencies exist regarding the nature of these relationships. In the DMN, activity has been associated with self-reported mind-wandering, and such mind-wandering is often associated with error-prone, variable behavior. However, increased DMN activity has also been reliably associated with stable, rather than variable behavior (i.e., being ‘in the zone’). To address this seeming contradiction, subjects performed a sustained attention task during fMRI, simultaneously measuring self-reported mind-wandering, task variability, and brain activity. We found that even though mind-wandering co-occurred with increased task variability, highest DMN signal levels were observed during mind-wandering and stable behavior simultaneously. In a second experiment, we addressed a parallel contradiction in TPNs, namely that TPN activity is associated with motivated attention, which is typically itself associated with accurate, stable behavior. However, increased TPN activity has also been reliably associated with variable, rather than stable behavior (i.e., being ‘out of the zone’). Using a similar continuous performance task and performance-based rewards, we find that while motivation co-occurred with decreased variability, highest TPN activity was observed with motivation and variable behavior simultaneously. Our results challenge commonly accepted viewpoints that spontaneous DMN/TPN activity primarily reflects mind-wandering and motivated attention, respectively, by showing that it also reflects attentional state fluctuations that cannot be captured by self-report or extrinsic experimental manipulations. Finally, I will introduce a novel functional connectivity and information processing perspective that may help move beyond activation in describing the role of these networks in sustained attention.