Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Voluntary action and conscious awareness


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.

This is a preview of subscription content

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

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


  1. Libet, B., Gleason, C. A., Wright, E. W. & Pearl, D. K. Time of conscious intention to act in relation to onset of cerebral activity (readiness-potential): the unconscious initiation of a freely voluntary act. Brain 106, 623–642 (1983).

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  2. Haggard, P. & Eimer, M. On the relation between brain potentials and the awareness of voluntary movements. Exp. Brain Res. 126, 128–133 (1999).

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  3. Fink, G. R. et al. The neural consequences of conflict between intention and the senses. Brain 122, 497–512 (1999).

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  4. Blakemore, S. J., Wolpert, D. M. & Frith, C. D. Why can't you tickle yourself? Neuroreport 11, 11–16 (2000).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Daprati, E. et al. Looking for the agent: an investigation into consciousness of action and self-consciousness in schizophrenic patients. Cognition 65, 71–86 (1997).

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  6. Haggard, P. & Magno, E. Localising awareness of action with transcranial magnetic stimulation. Exp. Brain Res. 127, 102–107 (1999).

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  7. Hommel, B. The cognitive representation of action: automatic integration of perceived action effects. Psychol. Res. 59, 176–186 (1996).

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  8. Elsner, B. & Hommel, B. Effect anticipation and action control. J. Exp. Psychol. Hum. Percept. Perform. 27, 229–240 (2001).

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  9. Breitmeyer, B. Problems with the psychophysics of intention. Behav. Brain Sci. 8, 539 (1985).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Sternberg, S. & Knoll, R. L. in Attention and Performance IV (ed. S. Kornblum) 629–686 (LEA, Hillsdale, New Jersey, 1973).

    Google Scholar 

  11. Shore, D. I, Spence, C. & Klein, R. M. Visual prior entry. Psychol. Sci. 12, 205–212 (2001).

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  12. Blakemore, S. J., Frith, C. D. & Wolpert, D. M. Spatio-temporal prediction modulates the perception of self-produced stimuli. J. Cogn. Neurosci. 11, 551–559 (1999).

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  13. Reason, J. Human Error (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1990).

    Book  Google Scholar 

  14. Frith, C. D. The Cognitive Neuropsychology of Schizophrenia (LEA, Hove, UK, 1992).

    Google Scholar 

  15. Wolpert, D. M. & Ghahramani, Z. Computational principles of movement neuroscience. Nature Neurosci. 3, 1212–1217 (2000).

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

Download references


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.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Patrick Haggard.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Haggard, P., Clark, S. & Kalogeras, J. Voluntary action and conscious awareness. Nat Neurosci 5, 382–385 (2002).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

Further reading


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing