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Default mode contributions to automated information processing

  1. Emmanuel A. Stamatakisa,b,d
  1. aDivision of Anaesthesia, School of Clinical Medicine, University of Cambridge, Cambridge CB2 0QQ, United Kingdom;
  2. bDepartment of Clinical Neurosciences, School of Clinical Medicine, University of Cambridge, Cambridge CB2 0QQ, United Kingdom;
  3. cDepartment of Psychology, University of York, Heslington, York YO10 5DD, United Kingdom;
  4. dWolfson Brain Imaging Centre, University of Cambridge, Cambridge CB2 0QQ, United Kingdom
  1. Edited by Marcus E. Raichle, Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, MO, and approved September 28, 2017 (received for review June 13, 2017)


In addition to dealing with variable demands of the environment in everyday life, we are continuously faced with routine, predictable challenges that require fast and effective responses. In an fMRI-based cognitive flexibility task, we show greater activity/connectivity centered on the default mode network during such automated decision-making under predictable environmental demands. Furthermore, we report on a significant correlation between this network and hippocampal connectivity and individual differences in the participants’ ability to make automated, fast, and accurate responses. Together, these results suggest an “autopilot” role for this network that may have important theoretical implications for our understanding of healthy brain processing in meeting worldly demands.


Concurrent with mental processes that require rigorous computation and control, a series of automated decisions and actions govern our daily lives, providing efficient and adaptive responses to environmental demands. Using a cognitive flexibility task, we show that a set of brain regions collectively known as the default mode network plays a crucial role in such “autopilot” behavior, i.e., when rapidly selecting appropriate responses under predictable behavioral contexts. While applying learned rules, the default mode network shows both greater activity and connectivity. Furthermore, functional interactions between this network and hippocampal and parahippocampal areas as well as primary visual cortex correlate with the speed of accurate responses. These findings indicate a memory-based “autopilot role” for the default mode network, which may have important implications for our current understanding of healthy and adaptive brain processing.


  • ?1To whom correspondence should be addressed. Email: ddsv2{at}cam.ac.uk.
  • Author contributions: D.V., D.K.M., and E.A.S. designed research; D.V. performed research; D.V. and E.A.S. contributed new reagents/analytic tools; D.V. and E.A.S. analyzed data; and D.V., D.K.M., and E.A.S. wrote the paper.

  • The authors declare no conflict of interest.

  • This article is a PNAS Direct Submission.

  • Data deposition: All statistical images associated with this article were deposited to the Neurovault open access repository (http://www.danielhellerman.com/collections/2969/). All raw data are archived at the Wolfson Brain Imaging Centre, Cambridge, and Division of Anaesthesia, School of Clinical Medicine, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK.

  • See Commentary on page 12641.

  • This article contains supporting information online at www.danielhellerman.com/lookup/suppl/doi:10.1073/pnas.1710521114/-/DCSupplemental.

Published under the PNAS license.

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