The sense of agency refers to the subjective feeling of controlling one’s own actions, and through them, external events. The sense of agency is a byproduct of human movements and also greatly shapes perception and behaviour. Furthermore, research on human–machine interaction has highlighted the importance of the sense of agency in joint control between humans and automated systems. In this Review, we first provide an overview of how the sense of agency influences human perception and how the perceptual effects of the sense of agency are used to measure this subjective feeling. Second, we review how the sense of agency modulates behaviour, including action selection, goal-directed actions, and social cognition. Third, we introduce theoretical and neural accounts of how the sense of agency arises. Finally, we explain how the sense of agency applies to human–machine interactions, an area that is rapidly developing and increasingly linked to daily life.
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This work was supported by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (KAKENHI grants 19H05725, 19H05729 and 21H03780). H.I. was partially supported by the Japan Agency for Medical Research and Development (grant JP18dm0307008).
The authors declare no competing interests.
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- Readiness potential
A slow negative electroencephalography (EEG) potential preceding the onset of voluntary movement, associated with movement preparation and decision-making.
Neurons responsible for processing predicted sensory feedback are activated prior to the input of the actual sensory feedback, resulting in a smaller change in the activation of these neurons after the sensory feedback.
- Steady-state visual evoked potential
(SSVEP). A measure of brain activity synchronized to a visual stimulus presented at a certain frequency, with an amplitude that is greatly influenced by attention.
Also known as the N100. A negative-going electrophysiological potential that peaks around 80–120 ms after the onset of an event. The peak’s amplitude depends on the salience of the event.
Also known as the P300. A positive-going electrophysiological potential that peaks roughly 250–500 ms after the onset of an event. The peak reflects categorization and evaluation.
- Mismatch negativity
A negative electrophysiological component that peaks around 100–250 ms after the onset of a rare stimulus in a sequence of repetitive stimuli, independently of attention.
- Efference copy
The internal duplicates of a motor command in the brain, used to predict the sensory feedback of the motor command.
The internally generated sense of self-movement and body position.
- Cerebellar forward models
Motor control models, acquired in the cerebellum, that transform a set of efference copies of motor commands into predicted sensory feedback.
Recording of electrical activity produced by skeletal muscles from the skin surface above the muscle.
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Wen, W., Imamizu, H. The sense of agency in perception, behaviour and human–machine interactions. Nat Rev Psychol 1, 211–222 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s44159-022-00030-6
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