Humans have a tendency to think about themselves. What generates this self-focus? One clue may come from the observation that the same part of the brain that supports self-reflection—the medial pFC (MPFC/Brodmann's area 10 [BA 10])—also spontaneously engages by default whenever the brain is free from external demands to attention. Here, we test the possibility that the default tendency to engage MPFC/BA 10 primes self-referential thinking. Participants underwent fMRI while alternating between brief periods of rest and experimental tasks in which they thought about their own traits, another person's traits, or another location's traits. Greater default engagement in MPFC/BA 10 during momentary breaks preferentially facilitated task performance on subsequent self-reflection trials on a moment-to-moment basis. These results suggest that reflexively engaging MPFC/BA 10 by default may nudge self-referential thinking, perhaps explaining why humans think about themselves so readily.

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