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PLoS One. 2018 Jan 11;13(1):e0191098. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0191098. eCollection 2018.

Taking two to tango: fMRI analysis of improvised joint action with physical contact.

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Department of Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour, McMaster University, Hamilton, ON, Canada.


Many forms of joint action involve physical coupling between the participants, such as when moving a sofa together or dancing a tango. We report the results of a novel two-person functional MRI study in which trained couple dancers engaged in bimanual contact with an experimenter standing next to the bore of the magnet, and in which the two alternated between being the leader and the follower of joint improvised movements. Leading showed a general pattern of self-orientation, being associated with brain areas involved in motor planning, navigation, sequencing, action monitoring, and error correction. In contrast, following showed a far more sensory, externally-oriented pattern, revealing areas involved in somatosensation, proprioception, motion tracking, social cognition, and outcome monitoring. We also had participants perform a "mutual" condition in which the movement patterns were pre-learned and the roles were symmetric, thereby minimizing any tendency toward either leading or following. The mutual condition showed greater activity in brain areas involved in mentalizing and social reward than did leading or following. Finally, the analysis of improvisation revealed the dual importance of motor-planning and working-memory areas. We discuss these results in terms of theories of both joint action and improvisation.

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