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Voluntary action and conscious awareness

Abstract

Humans have the conscious experience of 'free will': we feel we can generate our actions, and thus affect our environment. Here we used the perceived time of intentional actions and of their sensory consequences as a means to study consciousness of action. These perceived times were attracted together in conscious awareness, so that subjects perceived voluntary movements as occurring later and their sensory consequences as occurring earlier than they actually did. Comparable involuntary movements caused by magnetic brain stimulation reversed this attraction effect. We conclude that the CNS applies a specific neural mechanism to produce intentional binding of actions and their effects in conscious awareness.

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Figure 1: Pattern of perceptual shifts shows a binding effect for voluntary actions, but not for involuntary movements.

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Acknowledgements

This research was supported by MRC, Wellcome Trust and Leverhulme Trust. S.C. was involved in experiment 1; J.K. was involved in experiment 2.

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Correspondence to Patrick Haggard.

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Haggard, P., Clark, S. & Kalogeras, J. Voluntary action and conscious awareness. Nat Neurosci 5, 382–385 (2002). https://doi.org/10.1038/nn827

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