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Exploring the ecological validity of thinking on demand : neural correlates of elicited vs. spontaneously occurring inner speech.

Hurlburt, Russell T. and Alderson-Day, Ben and Kühn, Simone and Fernyhough, Charles (2016) 'Exploring the ecological validity of thinking on demand : neural correlates of elicited vs. spontaneously occurring inner speech.', PLoS ONE., 11 (2). e0147932.


Psychology and cognitive neuroscience often use standardized tasks to elicit particular experiences. We explore whether elicited experiences are similar to spontaneous experiences. In an MRI scanner, five participants performed tasks designed to elicit inner speech (covertly repeating experimenter-supplied words), inner seeing, inner hearing, feeling, and sensing. Then, in their natural environments, participants were trained in four days of random-beep-triggered Descriptive Experience Sampling (DES). They subsequently returned to the scanner for nine 25-min resting-state sessions; during each they received four DES beeps and described those moments (9 × 4 = 36 moments per participant) of spontaneously occurring experience. Enough of those moments included spontaneous inner speech to allow us to compare brain activation during spontaneous inner speech with what we had found in task-elicited inner speech. ROI analysis was used to compare activation in two relevant areas (Heschl’s gyrus and left inferior frontal gyrus). Task-elicited inner speech was associated with decreased activation in Heschl’s gyrus and increased activation in left inferior frontal gyrus. However, spontaneous inner speech had the opposite effect in Heschl’s gyrus and no significant effect in left inferior frontal gyrus. This study demonstrates how spontaneous phenomena can be investigated in MRI and calls into question the assumption that task-created phenomena are often neurophysiologically and psychologically similar to spontaneously occurring phenomena.

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Publisher statement:Copyright: © 2016 Hurlburt et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
Date accepted:11 January 2016
Date deposited:31 October 2017
Date of first online publication:04 February 2016
Date first made open access:31 October 2017

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