Response time as a proxy of the ongoing mental state: a combined fMRI and pupillometry study in Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Makovac, Elena, Fagiola, Sabrina, Watson, David, Meeten, Fran, Smallwood, Jonathan, Critchley, Hugo and Ottaviani, Cristina (2019) Response time as a proxy of the ongoing mental state: a combined fMRI and pupillometry study in Generalized Anxiety Disorder. NeuroImage. ISSN 1053-8119 (Accepted)

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In Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), fluctuations in ongoing thoughts (i.e., mind-wandering) often take the form of rigid and intrusive perseverative cognition, such as worry. Here, we sought to characterize the neural correlates of mind-wandering and perseverative cognition, alongside autonomic nervous system indices of central arousal, notably pupil dilation. We implemented a protocol incorporating the dynamic delivery of thought-probes within a functional neuroimaging task. Sixteen individuals with GAD and sixteen matched healthy controls (HC) underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging with concomitant pupillometry. Participants performed a series of low-demand tracking tasks, responding to occasional changes in a target stimulus. Such a task is typically accompanied by self-generated, off-task thinking. Thought-probes were triggered based on an individual’s response time (RT) when responding to the change in the target. Subjective reports showed that long RT predicted off-task thinking/mind-wandering. Moreover, long RT and mind-wandering were also associated with larger pupil diameter. This effect was exaggerated in GAD patients during perseverative cognition. Within brain, during both pre-target periods and target events, there were distinct neural correlates for mind-wandering (e.g., anterior cingulate and paracingulate activation at target onset) and perseverative cognition (e.g., opposite patterns of activation in posterior cingulate and cerebellum at target onset in HC and GAD). Results suggest that not only attention systems but also sensory-motor cortices are important during off-task states. Interestingly, changes across the ‘default mode network’ also tracked fluctuations in pupillary size. Autonomic expression in pupillary changes mirror brain activation patterns that occur during different forms of repetitive thinking.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: Generalized Anxiety Disorder; pupil; mind-wandering; perseverative cognition; response time
Schools and Departments: Brighton and Sussex Medical School > Neuroscience
School of Psychology > Psychology
Research Centres and Groups: Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science
Subjects: Q Science > QP Physiology > QP0351 Neurophysiology and neuropsychology
Q Science > QZ Psychology
R Medicine
Depositing User: Hugo Critchley
Date Deposited: 19 Feb 2019 14:03
Last Modified: 19 Feb 2019 16:26
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