Continuing the line of thought that the brain exhibits differential network activation/functional connectivity between task performance and resting state, there is recent evidence to support the notion of ‘neurogenisis’ or ‘brain growth’. While it makes sense to think that by doing some productive cognitive ‘work’ we will learn, strengthening the connections in the brain, it is an exciting development to be able to see where that growth might have taken place. Fitting with the large scale networks model, Lin et al. (2017) have observed changes in ‘topology’ of key networks subsequent to performing a task. Focusing on the default mode network once again, measures of this ‘resting state’ and comparison of networks connectivity prior to, during and immediately following a task, can reveal these marked differences that signify change and ‘growth’ has taken place. This may be a key to unlock markers of ‘self-development’!
I have been arguing perhaps with a little negative bias (for the sake of simplicity) that the DMN with it’s ‘selfish thinking’ traits represents a barrier to productivity, a proclivity towards distraction, and an obstacle to optimal performance. But within this argument that maybe tends towards throwing out the baby with the bathwater, the self gets a hard rap. Self has of course many facets, and there is no escaping self, be it from setting goals to ‘improve the self’, to ‘master the self’ to use self reflection as the basis for progression in life towards goals and achievements. So we should use this moment to (self) reflect on the utlity of a brain network that puts self to the forefront. it has its purpose! And its time and place.
Certainly, being overactive in the DMN can lead to negative consequence and dysfunction (mental health issues), and perhaps it’s contents can inhibit optimal (task postiive) performance by diverting resource at key moments away from focusing on the task at hand. But significant components of cognition and behaviour rely on a self referential perspective – be it drawing on prior experience (memories) or solving problems that take into account one’s own position in space – in order to effect appropriate responses when navigating around the world and making relevant decisions. And it makes sense to think that once a task has been performed, a necessary further ‘task’ relies on subsequent processing to integrate the lessons of that ‘experience’ into self referential brain structures for later utility in solving other problems and performing better on future tasks. In short, providing a repository of heuristics that one can draw on to short cut behaviours and decision-making and consolidate the brain’s status as a prediction machine that acts on prior knowledge in order to update it’s models of the world adaptively. ‘I’ have experienced such and such before, so now ‘I’ can use that experience as a short cut to future rapid decision making and problem solving. Therefore having experiences can shore up one’s surety (confidence) in acting decisively next time. It is speculated here that the self has some bearing in this, with personal significance that can perhaps help boost instinctual capacity towards such speedy decision making...
From this standpoint, and following Lin et al.s (2017) line about reconfiguration* of network topology subsequent to task performance (as differentiated from topology prior to task performance), it figures that (positive) changes should be observable in the default mode network. And that such modifications represent a re-organisation of the ‘self referential’ processing stream that contributes to improved performance on a future occasion. In short, ‘self development’ being manifest in this ‘self’ pertinent brain network. Further research will seek to build on this notion that the default mode network may provide a functional imaging (and neurocognitive) signature of enhanced ‘self’ predicting better performance on cognitive tasks, and a capacity to intrinsically modulate the brain’s own capacity to efficiently turn on and off networks pertinent at the appropriate time to effect optimal performance.
In short, the ‘self’ first deliberates prior to a task, perhaps uncertain, speculative. Then the self ‘retreats’ whilst performing said task. Finally, the self reconstitutes in the aftermath, re-integrates new experience, and updates it’s model for future reference. Growth has been neurally effected...
*” A possible explanation for our finding is that the DMN has been modulated by the prior cognitive task, which would shape the DMN topology properties and lead to the development of a new DMN organization”
Lin, P. Yang, Y., Gao,J., De Pisapia, N., Ge, S., Wang, X., Zuo, C.S., Levitt, J.J., & Niu C. (2017). Dynamic Default Mode Network across Different Brain States. Scientific Reports volume 7, Article number: 46088
The science of cognition and perception in context
This is where I elaborate upon brain science relating to cognitive functioning dependent on environmental context.