Unconscious modulation of the conscious experience of voluntary control

Cognition 104 (3):459-475 (2007)
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Abstract

How does the brain generate our experience of being in control over our actions and their effects? Here, we argue that the perception of events as self-caused emerges from a comparison between anticipated and actual action-effects: if the representation of an event that follows an action is activated before the action, the event is experienced as caused by one’s own action, whereas in the case of a mismatch it will be attributed to an external cause rather than to the self. In a subliminal priming paradigm we show that participants overestimated how much control they had over objectively uncontrollable stimuli, which appeared after free- or forced-choice actions, when a masked prime activated a representation of the stimuli immediately before each action. This prime-induced control-illusion was independent from whether primes were consciously perceived. Results indicate that the conscious experience of control is modulated by unconscious anticipations of action-effects.

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