Parallel distributed networks dissociate episodic and social functions within the individual

Lauren M. DiNicola*, Rodrigo M. Braga, Randy L. Buckner

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

80 Scopus citations


Association cortex is organized into large-scale distributed networks. One such network, the default network (DN), is linked to diverse forms of internal mentation, opening debate about whether shared or distinct anatomy supports multiple forms of cognition. Using within-individual analysis procedures that preserve idiosyncratic anatomical details, we probed whether multiple tasks from two domains, episodic projection and theory of mind (ToM), rely on the same or distinct networks. In an initial experiment (6 subjects, each scanned 4 times), we found evidence that episodic projection and ToM tasks activate separate regions distributed throughout the cortex, with adjacent regions in parietal, temporal, prefrontal, and midline zones. These distinctions were predicted by the hypothesis that the DN comprises two parallel, interdigitated networks. One network, linked to parahippocampal cortex (PHC), is preferentially recruited during episodic projection, including both remembering and imagining the future. A second juxtaposed network, which includes the temporoparietal junction (TPJ), is differentially engaged during multiple forms of ToM. In two prospectively acquired independent experiments, we replicated and triplicated the dissociation (each with 6 subjects scanned 4 times). Furthermore, the dissociation was found in all zones when analyzed independently, including robustly in midline regions previously described as hubs. The TPJ-linked network is interwoven with the PHC-linked network across the cortex, making clear why it is difficult to fully resolve the two networks in group-averaged or lower-resolution data. These results refine our understanding of the functionalanatomical organization of association cortex and raise fundamental questions about how specialization might arise in parallel, juxtaposed association networks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1144-1179
Number of pages36
JournalJournal of neurophysiology
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2020


  • Association cortex
  • Default network
  • Prospection
  • Remembering
  • Theory of mind

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • General Neuroscience


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