Spontaneous thought in social contexts
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Description: The majority of people’s spontaneous thoughts are about other people. We propose that this outsize focus on other people reflects the rich social world in which people are embedded. To test how social context shapes spontaneous thought, we assessed the content of spontaneous thought during mind wandering in three social contexts – solitude (Study 1), social presence (Study 2), and social interaction (Study 3). Additionally, in Study 1, we used functional neuroimaging to measure neural activity while participants considered social and non-social targets. Solitude decreased spontaneous social thought and decreased neural activity in the mentalizing network when thinking about a close friend. Social presence did not change spontaneous social thought. Social interaction increased spontaneous social thought. Together, the results show a clear pattern of increasing social thought in increasingly social environments. These findings suggest that spontaneous social thought may be a mechanism that helps us process our social environment.
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