Professional Education


  • Doctor of Philosophy, University of British Columbia (2017)
  • Bachelor of Science, University of Toronto (2006)
  • Master of Arts, University of British Columbia (2011)

All Publications


  • The neural basis of motivational influences on cognitive control HUMAN BRAIN MAPPING Parro, C., Dixon, M. L., Christoff, K. 2018; 39 (12): 5097–5111

    Abstract

    Cognitive control mechanisms support the deliberate regulation of thought and behavior based on current goals. Recent work suggests that motivational incentives improve cognitive control and has begun to elucidate critical neural substrates. We conducted a quantitative meta-analysis of neuroimaging studies of motivated cognitive control using activation likelihood estimation (ALE) and Neurosynth to delineate the brain regions that are consistently activated across studies. The analysis included studies that investigated changes in brain activation during cognitive control tasks when reward incentives were present versus absent. The ALE analysis revealed consistent recruitment in regions associated with the frontoparietal control network including the inferior frontal sulcus and intraparietal sulcus, as well as regions associated with the salience network including the anterior insula and anterior mid-cingulate cortex. As a complementary analysis, we performed a large-scale exploratory meta-analysis using Neurosynth to identify regions that are recruited in studies using of the terms cognitive control and incentive. This analysis replicated the ALE results and also identified the rostrolateral prefrontal cortex, caudate nucleus, nucleus accumbens, medial thalamus, inferior frontal junction, premotor cortex, and hippocampus. Finally, we separately compared recruitment during cue and target periods, which tap into proactive engagement of rule-outcome associations, and the mobilization of appropriate viscero-motor states to execute a response, respectively. We found that largely distinct sets of brain regions are recruited during cue and target periods. Altogether, these findings suggest that flexible interactions between frontoparietal, salience, and dopaminergic midbrain-striatal networks may allow control demands to be precisely tailored based on expected value.

    View details for DOI 10.1002/hbm.24348

    View details for Web of Science ID 000449673400038

    View details for PubMedID 30120846

  • Affective neuroscience of self-generated thought. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences Fox, K. C., Andrews-Hanna, J. R., Mills, C., Dixon, M. L., Markovic, J., Thompson, E., Christoff, K. 2018

    Abstract

    Despite increasing scientific interest in self-generated thought-mental content largely independent of the immediate environment-there has yet to be any comprehensive synthesis of the subjective experience and neural correlates of affect in these forms of thinking. Here, we aim to develop an integrated affective neuroscience encompassing many forms of self-generated thought-normal and pathological, moderate and excessive, in waking and in sleep. In synthesizing existing literature on this topic, we reveal consistent findings pertaining to the prevalence, valence, and variability of emotion in self-generated thought, and highlight how these factors might interact with self-generated thought to influence general well-being. We integrate these psychological findings with recent neuroimaging research, bringing attention to the neural correlates of affect in self-generated thought. We show that affect in self-generated thought is prevalent, positively biased, highly variable (both within and across individuals), and consistently recruits many brain areas implicated in emotional processing, including the orbitofrontal cortex, amygdala, insula, and medial prefrontal cortex. Many factors modulate these typical psychological and neural patterns, however; the emerging affective neuroscience of self-generated thought must endeavor to link brain function and subjective experience in both everyday self-generated thought as well as its dysfunctions in mental illness.

    View details for PubMedID 29754412

  • Heterogeneity within the frontoparietal control network and its relationship to the default and dorsal attention networks PROCEEDINGS OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA Dixon, M. L., De la Vega, A., Mills, C., Andrews-Hanna, J., Spreng, R., Cole, M. W., Christoff, K. 2018; 115 (7): E1598–E1607

    Abstract

    The frontoparietal control network (FPCN) plays a central role in executive control. It has been predominantly viewed as a unitary domain general system. Here, we examined patterns of FPCN functional connectivity (FC) across multiple conditions of varying cognitive demands, to test for FPCN heterogeneity. We identified two distinct subsystems within the FPCN based on hierarchical clustering and machine learning classification analyses of within-FPCN FC patterns. These two FPCN subsystems exhibited distinct patterns of FC with the default network (DN) and the dorsal attention network (DAN). FPCNA exhibited stronger connectivity with the DN than the DAN, whereas FPCNB exhibited the opposite pattern. This twofold FPCN differentiation was observed across four independent datasets, across nine different conditions (rest and eight tasks), at the level of individual-participant data, as well as in meta-analytic coactivation patterns. Notably, the extent of FPCN differentiation varied across conditions, suggesting flexible adaptation to task demands. Finally, we used meta-analytic tools to identify several functional domains associated with the DN and DAN that differentially predict activation in the FPCN subsystems. These findings reveal a flexible and heterogeneous FPCN organization that may in part emerge from separable DN and DAN processing streams. We propose that FPCNA may be preferentially involved in the regulation of introspective processes, whereas FPCNB may be preferentially involved in the regulation of visuospatial perceptual attention.

    View details for PubMedID 29382744

  • Emotion and the Prefrontal Cortex: An Integrative Review PSYCHOLOGICAL BULLETIN Dixon, M. L., Thiruchselvam, R., Todd, R., Christoff, K. 2017; 143 (10): 1033–81

    Abstract

    The prefrontal cortex (PFC) plays a critical role in the generation and regulation of emotion. However, we lack an integrative framework for understanding how different emotion-related functions are organized across the entire expanse of the PFC, as prior reviews have generally focused on specific emotional processes (e.g., decision making) or specific anatomical regions (e.g., orbitofrontal cortex). Additionally, psychological theories and neuroscientific investigations have proceeded largely independently because of the lack of a common framework. Here, we provide a comprehensive review of functional neuroimaging, electrophysiological, lesion, and structural connectivity studies on the emotion-related functions of 8 subregions spanning the entire PFC. We introduce the appraisal-by-content model, which provides a new framework for integrating the diverse range of empirical findings. Within this framework, appraisal serves as a unifying principle for understanding the PFC's role in emotion, while relative content-specialization serves as a differentiating principle for understanding the role of each subregion. A synthesis of data from affective, social, and cognitive neuroscience studies suggests that different PFC subregions are preferentially involved in assigning value to specific types of inputs: exteroceptive sensations, episodic memories and imagined future events, viscero-sensory signals, viscero-motor signals, actions, others' mental states (e.g., intentions), self-related information, and ongoing emotions. We discuss the implications of this integrative framework for understanding emotion regulation, value-based decision making, emotional salience, and refining theoretical models of emotion. This framework provides a unified understanding of how emotional processes are organized across PFC subregions and generates new hypotheses about the mechanisms underlying adaptive and maladaptive emotional functioning. (PsycINFO Database Record

    View details for DOI 10.1037/bul0000096

    View details for Web of Science ID 000411416300002

    View details for PubMedID 28616997

  • Interactions between the default network and dorsal attention network vary across default subsystems, time, and cognitive states NEUROIMAGE Dixon, M. L., Andrews-Hanna, J. R., Spreng, R., Irving, Z. C., Mills, C., Girn, M., Christoff, K. 2017; 147: 632–49

    Abstract

    Anticorrelation between the default network (DN) and dorsal attention network (DAN) is thought to be an intrinsic aspect of functional brain organization reflecting competing functions. However, the effect size of functional connectivity (FC) between the DN and DAN has yet to be established. Furthermore, the stability of anticorrelations across distinct DN subsystems, different contexts, and time, remains unexplored. In study 1 we summarize effect sizes of DN-DAN FC from 20 studies, and in study 2 we probe the variability of DN-DAN interactions across six different cognitive states in a new data set. We show that: (i) the DN and DAN have an independent rather than anticorrelated relationship when global signal regression is not used (median effect size across studies: r=-.06; 95% CI: -.15 to .08); (ii) the DAN exhibits weak negative FC with the DN Core subsystem but is uncorrelated with the dorsomedial prefrontal and medial temporal lobe subsystems; (iii) DN-DAN interactions vary significantly across different cognitive states; (iv) DN-DAN FC fluctuates across time between periods of anticorrelation and periods of positive correlation; and (v) changes across time in the strength of DN-DAN coupling are coordinated with interactions involving the frontoparietal control network (FPCN). Overall, the observed weak effect sizes related to DN-DAN anticorrelation suggest the need to re-conceptualize the nature of interactions between these networks. Furthermore, our findings demonstrate that DN-DAN interactions are not stable, but rather, exhibit substantial variability across time and context, and are coordinated with broader network dynamics involving the FPCN.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2016.12.073

    View details for Web of Science ID 000394560600055

    View details for PubMedID 28040543

  • Dynamics of neural recruitment surrounding the spontaneous arising of thoughts in experienced mindfulness practitioners NEUROIMAGE Ellamil, M., Fox, K. R., Dixon, M. L., Pritchard, S., Todd, R. M., Thompson, E., Christoff, K. 2016; 136: 186–96

    Abstract

    Thoughts arise spontaneously in our minds with remarkable frequency, but tracking the brain systems associated with the early inception of a thought has proved challenging. Here we addressed this issue by taking advantage of the heightened introspective ability of experienced mindfulness practitioners to observe the onset of their spontaneously arising thoughts. We found subtle differences in timing among the many regions typically recruited by spontaneous thought. In some of these regions, fMRI signal peaked prior to the spontaneous arising of a thought - most notably in the medial temporal lobe and inferior parietal lobule. In contrast, activation in the medial prefrontal, temporopolar, mid-insular, lateral prefrontal, and dorsal anterior cingulate cortices peaked together with or immediately following the arising of spontaneous thought. We propose that brain regions that show antecedent recruitment may be preferentially involved in the initial inception of spontaneous thoughts, while those that show later recruitment may be preferentially involved in the subsequent elaboration and metacognitive processing of spontaneous thoughts. Our findings highlight the temporal dynamics of neural recruitment surrounding the emergence of spontaneous thoughts and may help account for some of spontaneous thought's peculiar qualities, including its wild diversity of content and its links to memory and attention.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2016.04.034

    View details for Web of Science ID 000378048000017

    View details for PubMedID 27114056

  • The lateral prefrontal cortex and complex value-based learning and decision making NEUROSCIENCE AND BIOBEHAVIORAL REVIEWS Dixon, M. L., Christoff, K. 2014; 45: 9–18

    Abstract

    Tremendous progress has been made in discerning the neurocognitive basis of value-based decision making and learning. Although the majority of studies to date have employed simple task paradigms, recent work has started to examine more complex aspects of value processing including: the value of engaging rule-based cognitive control; the integration of multiple pieces of information (e.g., reward magnitude and delay) to discern the best course of action; pursuing future rewards; valuation of abstract concepts (e.g., fairness); and comparing the value of executed versus imagined alternative actions. We provide a comprehensive review of functional neuroimaging, electrophysiological, and lesion evidence suggesting that the lateral prefrontal cortex (LPFC) plays a critical role in these complex aspects of value processing. In particular, we focus on the specific information that the LPFC represents, and argue that it includes both cognitive and value-based information. We also discuss how the role of the LPFC is distinct from other value-related regions. Finally, we articulate a framework for understanding the contribution of subregions along the rostro-caudal axis of the LPFC, and thereby bridge the cognitive control and decision making literatures.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2014.04.011

    View details for Web of Science ID 000341466600002

    View details for PubMedID 24792234

  • Is meditation associated with altered brain structure? A systematic review and meta-analysis of morphometric neuroimaging in meditation practitioners NEUROSCIENCE AND BIOBEHAVIORAL REVIEWS Fox, K. R., Nijeboer, S., Dixon, M. L., Floman, J. L., Ellamil, M., Rumak, S. P., Sedlmeier, P., Christoff, K. 2014; 43: 48–73

    Abstract

    Numerous studies have begun to address how the brain's gray and white matter may be shaped by meditation. This research is yet to be integrated, however, and two fundamental questions remain: Is meditation associated with altered brain structure? If so, what is the magnitude of these differences? To address these questions, we reviewed and meta-analyzed 123 brain morphology differences from 21 neuroimaging studies examining ∼300 meditation practitioners. Anatomical likelihood estimation (ALE) meta-analysis found eight brain regions consistently altered in meditators, including areas key to meta-awareness (frontopolar cortex/BA 10), exteroceptive and interoceptive body awareness (sensory cortices and insula), memory consolidation and reconsolidation (hippocampus), self and emotion regulation (anterior and mid cingulate; orbitofrontal cortex), and intra- and interhemispheric communication (superior longitudinal fasciculus; corpus callosum). Effect size meta-analysis (calculating 132 effect sizes from 16 studies) suggests a global 'medium' effect size (Cohen's d¯=0.46; r¯=.19). Publication bias and methodological limitations are strong concerns, however. Further research using rigorous methods is required to definitively link meditation practice to altered brain morphology.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2014.03.016

    View details for Web of Science ID 000338607400004

    View details for PubMedID 24705269

  • The Decision to Engage Cognitive Control Is Driven by Expected Reward-Value: Neural and Behavioral Evidence PLOS ONE Dixon, M. L., Christoff, K. 2012; 7 (12): e51637

    Abstract

    Cognitive control is a fundamental skill reflecting the active use of task-rules to guide behavior and suppress inappropriate automatic responses. Prior work has traditionally used paradigms in which subjects are told when to engage cognitive control. Thus, surprisingly little is known about the factors that influence individuals' initial decision of whether or not to act in a reflective, rule-based manner. To examine this, we took three classic cognitive control tasks (Stroop, Wisconsin Card Sorting Task, Go/No-Go task) and created novel 'free-choice' versions in which human subjects were free to select an automatic, pre-potent action, or an action requiring rule-based cognitive control, and earned varying amounts of money based on their choices. Our findings demonstrated that subjects' decision to engage cognitive control was driven by an explicit representation of monetary rewards expected to be obtained from rule-use. Subjects rarely engaged cognitive control when the expected outcome was of equal or lesser value as compared to the value of the automatic response, but frequently engaged cognitive control when it was expected to yield a larger monetary outcome. Additionally, we exploited fMRI-adaptation to show that the lateral prefrontal cortex (LPFC) represents associations between rules and expected reward outcomes. Together, these findings suggest that individuals are more likely to act in a reflective, rule-based manner when they expect that it will result in a desired outcome. Thus, choosing to exert cognitive control is not simply a matter of reason and willpower, but rather, conforms to standard mechanisms of value-based decision making. Finally, in contrast to current models of LPFC function, our results suggest that the LPFC plays a direct role in representing motivational incentives.

    View details for DOI 10.1371/journal.pone.0051637

    View details for Web of Science ID 000312694300034

    View details for PubMedID 23284730

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC3526643