Social imitation increases well-being and closeness by mechanisms that remain poorly understood. We propose that imitation impacts behavioural states in part by modulating post-imitation mind-wandering. The human mind wanders spontaneously and frequently, revisiting the past and imagining the future of self and of others. External and internal factors can influence wandering spontaneous thoughts, whose content predicts subsequent emotional states. In 43 young subjects, we find that imitating the arm movements of an actor alters the dynamics and the content of subsequent resting-state spontaneous thoughts. Imitation-sensitive features of spontaneous thoughts correlate with both behavioural states and salivary oxytocin levels. EEG microstate analysis reveals that global patterns of correlated neuronal activity predict imitation-induced changes in spontaneous thoughts. Thus, imitation can modulate ongoing activity in specific neural networks to change spontaneous thought patterns as a function of oxytocin levels, and to ultimately orchestrate behavioural states.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience