In this book Daniel Wegner offers a novel understanding of the relation of consciousness, the will, and our intentional and voluntary actions. Wegner claims that our experience and common sense view according to which we can influence our behavior roughly the way we experience that we do it is an illusion.
Participants watched themselves in a mirror while another person behind them, hidden from view, extended hands forward on each side where participants’ hands would normally appear. The hands performed a series of movements. When participants could hear instructions previewing each movement, they reported an enhanced feeling of controlling the hands. Hearing instructions for the movements also enhanced skin conductance responses when a rubber band was snapped on the other’s wrist after the movements. Such vicarious agency was not felt when the (...) instructions followed the movements, and participants’ own covert movement mimicry was not essential to the influence of previews on reported control. (shrink)
We often consciously will our own actions. This experience is so profound that it tempts us to believe that our actions are caused by consciousness. It could also be a trick, however – the mind’s way of estimating its own apparent authorship by drawing causal inferences about relationships between thoughts and actions. Cognitive, social, and neuropsychological studies of apparent mental causation suggest that experiences of conscious will frequently depart from actual causal processes and so might not reﬂect direct perceptions of (...) conscious thought causing action. (shrink)
The uncanny valley—the unnerving nature of humanlike robots—is an intriguing idea, but both its existence and its underlying cause are debated. We propose that humanlike robots are not only unnerving, but are so because their appearance prompts attributions of mind. In particular, we suggest that machines become unnerving when people ascribe to them experience, rather than agency. Experiment 1 examined whether a machine’s humanlike appearance prompts both ascriptions of experience and feelings of unease. Experiment 2 tested whether a machine capable (...) of experience remains unnerving, even without a humanlike appearance. Experiment 3 investigated whether the perceived lack of experience can also help explain the creepiness of unfeeling humans and philosophical zombies. These experiments demonstrate that feelings of uncanniness are tied to perceptions of experience, and also suggest that experience—but not agency—is seen as fundamental to humans, and fundamentally lacking in machines. (shrink)
We investigate the processes underlying the feeling of control over one’s actions . Sense of agency may depend on internal motoric signals, and general inferences about external events. We used priming to modulate the sense of agency for voluntary and involuntary movements, by modifying the content of conscious thought prior to moving. Trials began with the presentation of one of two supraliminal primes, which corresponded to the effect of a voluntary action participants subsequently made. The perceived interval between movement and (...) effect was used as an implicit measure of sense of agency. Primes modulated perceived intervals for both voluntary and involuntary movements, but the modulation was greatest for involuntary movements. A second experiment showed that this modulation depended on prime–movement contiguity. We propose that sense of agency is based on a combination of internal motoric signals and external sensory evidence about the source of actions and effects. (shrink)
Three experiments examined whether the mere priming of potential action effects enhances people’s feeling of causing these effects when they occur. In a computer task, participants and the computer independently moved a rapidly moving square on a display. Participants had to press a key, thereby stopping the movement. However, the participant or the computer could have caused the square to stop on the observed position, and accordingly, the stopped position of the square could be conceived of as the potential effect (...) resulting from participants’ action of pressing the stop key. The location of this position was primed or not just before participants had to stop the movement. Results showed that priming of the position enhanced experienced authorship of stopping the square. Additional experimentation demonstrated that this priming of agency was not mediated by the goal or intention to produce the effect. (shrink)
The experience of conscious will is the feeling that we are doing things. This feeling occurs for many things we do, conveying to us again and again the sense that we consciously cause our actions. But the feeling may not be a true reading of what is happening in our minds, brains, and bodies as our actions are produced. The feeling of conscious will can be fooled. This happens in clinical disorders such as alien hand syndrome, dissociative identity disorder, and (...) schizophrenic auditory hallucinations. And in people without disorders, phenomena such as hypnosis, automatic writing, Ouija board spelling, water dowsing, facilitated communication, speaking in tongues, spirit possession, and trance channeling also illustrate anomalies of will – cases when actions occur without will or will occurs without action. This book brings these cases together with research evidence from laboratories in psychology to explore a theory of apparent mental causation. According to this theory, when a thought appears in consciousness just prior to an action, is consistent with the action, and appears exclusive of salient alternative causes of the action, we experience conscious will and ascribe authorship to ourselves for the action. Experiences of conscious will thus arise from processes whereby the mind interprets itself – not from processes whereby mind creates action. Conscious will, in this view, is an indication that we think we have caused an action, not a revelation of the causal sequence by which the action was produced. Key Words: apparent mental causation; automatism; conscious will; determinism; free will; perceived control. (shrink)
It has been proposed that inferring personal authorship for an event gives rise to intentional binding, a perceptual illusion in which one’s action and inferred effect seem closer in time than they otherwise would . Using a novel, naturalistic paradigm, we conducted two experiments to test this hypothesis and examine the relationship between binding and self-reported authorship. In both experiments, an important authorship indicator – consistency between one’s action and a subsequent event – was manipulated, and its effects on binding (...) and self-reported authorship were measured. Results showed that action-event consistency enhanced both binding and self-reported authorship, supporting the hypothesis that binding arises from an inference of authorship. At the same time, evidence for a dissociation emerged, with consistency having a more robust effect on self-reports than on binding. Taken together, these results suggest that binding and self-reports reveal different aspects of the sense of authorship. (shrink)
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The experience of conscious will is the feeling that we are doing things. This feeling occurs for many things we do, conveying to us again and again the sense that we consciously cause our actions. But the feeling may not be a true reading of what is happening in our minds, brains, and bodies as our actions are produced. The feeling of conscious will can be fooled. This happens in clinical disorders such as alien hand syndrome, dissociative identity disorder, and (...) schizophrenic auditory hallucinations. And in people without disorders, phenomena such as hypnosis, automatic writing, Ouija board spelling, water dowsing, facilitated communication, speaking in tongues, spirit possession, and trance channeling also illustrate anomalies of will not from processes whereby mind creates action. Conscious will, in this view, is an indication that we think we have caused an action, not a revelation of the causal sequence by which the action was produced. (shrink)
Key Words mental control, intrusive thought, rebound effect, ironic processes Abstract Although thought suppression is a popular form of mental control, research has indicated that it can be counterproductive, helping assure the very state of mind one had hoped to avoid. This chapter reviews the research on suppression, which spans a wide range of domains, including emotions, memory, interpersonal processes, psychophysiological reactions, and psychopathology. The chapter considers the relevant methodological and theoretical issues and suggests directions for future research.
The accessibility of suppressed thoughts was compared with the accessibility of thoughts on which Ss were consciously trying to concentrate. In Experiment I, Ss made associations to word prompts as they tried to suppress thinking about a target word (e.g., house) or tried to concentrate on that word. Under the cognitive load imposed by time pressure, they gave the target word in response to target-related prompts (e.g., home) more often during suppression than during concentration. In Experiment 2, reaction times for (...) naming colors of words were found to be greater under conditions of cognitive load when Ss were asked to suppress thinking of the word than under conditions of no cognitive load or when Ss were asked to concentrate on the word. The results support the idea that an automatic search for the suppression target increases the accessibility of the target during.. (shrink)
These studies examined whether having thoughts related to an event before it occurs leads people to infer that they caused the event— even when such causation might otherwise seem magical. In Study 1, people perceived that they had harmed another person via a voodoo hex. These perceptions were more likely among those who had first been induced to harbor evil thoughts about their victim. In Study 2, spectators of a peer’s basketball-shooting performance were more likely to perceive that they had (...) influenced his success if they had first generated positive visualizations consistent with that success. Observers privy to those spectators’ visualizations made similar attributions about the spectators’ influence. Finally, addi- tional studies suggested that these results occur even when the thought-about outcome is viewed as unwanted by the thinker and even in field settings where the relevant outcome is occurring as part of a live athletic competition. (shrink)
Believing in God requires not only a leap of faith but also an extension of people’s normal capacity to perceive the minds of others. Usually, people perceive minds of all kinds by trying to understand their conscious experience (what it is like to be them) and their agency (what they can do). Although humans are perceived to have both agency and experience, humans appear to see God as possessing agency, but not experience. God’s unique mind is due, the authors suggest, (...) to the uniquely moral role He occupies. In this article, the authors propose that God is seen as the ultimate moral agent, the entity people blame and praise when they receive anomalous harm and help. Support for this proposition comes from research on mind perception, morality, and moral typecasting. Interestingly, although people perceive God as the author of salvation, suffering seems to evoke even more attributions to the divine. (shrink)
Anger, disgust, elevation, sympathy, relief. If the subjective experience of each of these emotions is the same whether elicited by moral or nonmoral events, then what makes moral emotions unique? We suggest that the configuration of moral emotions is special—a configuration given by the underlying structure of morality. Research suggests that people divide the moral world along the two dimensions of valence (help/harm) and moral type (agent/patient). The intersection of these two dimensions gives four moral exemplars—heroes, villains, victims and beneficiaries—each (...) of which elicits unique emotions. For example, victims (harm/patient) elicit sympathy and sadness. Dividing moral emotions into these four quadrants provides predictions about which emotions reinforce, oppose and complement each other. (shrink)
The conscious awareness of voluntary action is associated with systematic changes in time perception: The interval between actions and outcomes is experienced as compressed in time. Although this temporal binding is thought to result from voluntary movement and provides a window to the sense of agency, recent studies challenge this idea by demonstrating binding in involuntary movement. We offer a potential account for these findings by proposing that binding between involuntary actions and effects can occur when self-causation is implied. Participants (...) made temporal judgements concerning a key press and a tone, while they learned to consider themselves as the cause of the effect or not. Results showed that implied self-causation increased temporal binding. Since intrinsic motor cues of movement were absent, these results suggest that sensory evidence about the key press caused binding in retrospect and in line with the participant’s sense of being an agent. (shrink)
When someone steps on your toe on purpose, it seems to hurt more than when the person does the same thing unintentionally. The physical parameters of the harm may not differ—your toe is ﬂattened in both cases—but the psychological experience of pain is changed nonetheless. Intentional harms are premeditated by another person and have the speciﬁc purpose of causing pain. In a sense, intended harms are events initiated by one mind to communicate meaning (malice) to another, and this could shape (...) the recipient’s experience. This study examined whether self-reported pain is indeed higher when the events producing the pain are understood as intentionally (as opposed to unintentionally) caused by another person. Although pain was traditionally conceived to be solely physical in nature (Aydede, 2005), its experience varies substantially with psychological context. The placebo analgesia effect, for example, is the reduction of pain without a change in physical stimulation when context, expectations, or sugar pills challenge the interpretation of a sensation as painful (e.g., Fields, 2008). The nocebo effect, in turn, is the experience of pain without any physical stimulation—as when participants report headaches when told that a (nonexistent) electric current is passing through their heads (Schweiger & Parducci, 1981). These variations in pain experience seem to depend on the meaning of the stimulus: A sugar pill is meant to decrease pain, whereas electric current is meant to increase pain. In an interpersonal context, the meaning of an action is derived from the would complete. perceiver’s perceptions of the actor’s intention (Clark, 1996). (shrink)
Are we the robots? This question surfaces often in current psychological re- search, as various kinds of robot parts-automatic actions, mental mechanisms, even neural circuits-keep appearing in our explanations of human behavior. Automatic processes seem responsible for a wide range of the things we do, a fact that may leave us feeling, if not fully robotic, at least a bit nonhuman. The complement of the automatic process in contemporary psychology, of course, is the controlled process (Atkinson & Shiffrin, 1968; Bargh, (...) 1984; Posner & Snyder, 1975; Shiffrin & Schnieder, 1977), and it is in theories of controlled processes that vestiges of our humanity reappear. Controlled processes are viewed as conscious, effortful, and intentional. and as drawing on more sources of information than automatic processes. With this power of conscious will, controlled processes seem to bring the civilized quality back to psychological explanation that automatic processes leave out. Yet by reintroducing this touch of humanity, the notion of a controlled process also brings us within glimpsing range of a fatal theoretical error-the idea that there is a controller. (shrink)
In slapstick comedy, the worst thing that could happen usually does: The person with a sore toe manages to stub it, sometimes twice. Such errors also arise in daily life, and research traces the tendency to do precisely the worst thing to ironic processes of mental control. These monitoring processes keep us watchful for errors of thought, speech, and action and enable us to avoid the worst thing in most situations, but they also increase the likelihood of such errors when (...) we attempt to exert control under mental load (stress, time pressure, or distraction). Ironic errors in attention and memory occur with identifiable brain activity and prompt recurrent unwanted thoughts; attraction to forbidden desires; expression of objectionable social prejudices; production of movement errors; and rebounds of negative experiences such as anxiety, pain, and depression. Such ironies can be overcome when effective control strategies are deployed and mental load is minimized. (shrink)
Belief in free will is widespread. The present research considered one reason why people may believe that actions are freely chosen rather than determined: they attribute randomness in behavior to free will. Experiment 1 found that participants who were prompted to perform a random sequence of actions experienced their behavior as more freely chosen than those who were prompted to perform a deterministic sequence. Likewise, Experiment 2 found that, all else equal, the behavior of animated agents was perceived to be (...) more freely chosen if it consisted of a random sequence of actions than if it consisted of a deterministic sequence; this was true even when the degree of randomness in agents’ behavior was largely a product of their environments. Together, these findings suggest that randomness in behavior—one’s own or another’s—can be mistaken for free will. (shrink)
��People spent 5 min before sleep at home writing their stream of thought as they suppressed thoughts of a target person, thought of the person, or wrote freely after mentioning the person. These presleep references generally prompted people to report increased dreaming about the person. However, suppression instructions were particularly likely to have this in- ﬂuence, increasing dreaming about the person as measured both by participants’ self-ratings of their dreams and by raters’ coding of mentions of the person in written (...) dream reports. This effect was observed regardless of emotional attraction to the person. (shrink)
Although torture can establish guilt through confession, how are judgments of guilt made when tortured suspects do not confess? We suggest that perceived guilt is based inappropriately upon how much pain suspects appear to suffer during torture. Two psychological theories provide competing predictions about the link between pain and perceived blame: cognitive dissonance, which links pain to blame, and moral typecasting, which links pain to innocence. We hypothesized that dissonance might characterize the relationship between torture and blame for those close (...) to the torture, while moral typecasting might characterize this relationship for those more distant from it. Accordingly, this experiment placed participants into one of two different roles in which people may be exposed to torture. Participants in the proximal role of prison staffer saw suffering torture victims as relatively more guilty, while participants in the relatively distant role of a radio listener saw suffering victims as more innocent. (shrink)
Participants were asked to carry out a series of simple tasks while following mental control instructions. In advance of each task, they either suppressed thoughts of their intention to perform the task, concentrated on such thoughts, or monitored their thoughts without trying to change them. Suppression resulted in reduced reports of intentionality as compared to monitoring, and as compared to concentration. There was a weak trend for suppression to enhance reported intentionality for a repetition of the action carried out after (...) suppression instructions had been discontinued. (shrink)
The authors examined how a perceiver’s identification of a target person’s actions covaries with attributions of mind to the target. The authors found in Study 1 that the attribution of intentionality and cognition to a target was associated with identifying the target’s action in terms of high-level effects rather than low-level details. In Study 2, both action identification and mind attribution were greater for a liked target, and in Study 3, they were reduced for a target suffering misfortune. In Study (...) 4, it was again found that action identification and mind attribution were greater for a liked target, but like that for the self or a liked other, positive actions were identified at higher levels than negative actions, with the reverse being true for disliked others. In Study 5, the authors found that instructing participants to adopt the target’s perspective did not affect mind attribution but did lead to higher level identifications of the.. (shrink)
The commentators' responses to The Illusion of Conscious Will reveal a healthy range of opinions – pro, con, and occasionally stray. Common concerns and issues are summarized here in terms of 11 “frequently asked questions,” which often center on the theme of how the experience of conscious will supports the creation of the self as author of action.
This research examined the role of thought suppression in the formation of mental blocks. In Experiment 1, participants were asked to generate a series of creative associates for two target words after initially suppressing a word that was semantically related to one of the two target words. Participants produced fewer responses, and experienced a greater sensation of being mentally blocked, when attempting to produce associates for the target word that was semantically related to the suppressed word. In Experiment 2, participants (...) either thought about or suppressed a series of words prior to completing a word fragment completion task. Each word either corresponded exactly to one of the word fragment solutions or resembled one of the solutions but was slightly different in its orthographic properties . Participants performed most poorly on the items for which they had initially suppressed negative primes. (shrink)
Unpriming is a decrease in the influence of primed knowledge following a behavior expressing that knowledge. The authors investigated strategies for unpriming the knowledge of an answer that is activated when people are asked to consider a simple question. Experiment 1 found that prior correct answering eliminated the bias people normally show toward correct responding when asked to answer yes–no questions randomly. Experiment 2 revealed that prior answering intended to be random did not unprime knowledge on subsequent attempts to answer (...) randomly. Experiment 3 found that exposure to the correct answer did not influence the knowledge bias but that exposure to the incorrect answer increased bias. Experiment 4 revealed that merely expressing the answer for oneself was sufficient to unprime knowledge. Experiment 5 found that each item of activated knowledge needs to be unprimed specifically, in that correctly answering 1 question does not reduce the knowledge bias in randomly answering another. (shrink)
Although the suppression of thoughts may seem to be an effective solution when thoughts are unwanted, this strategy can lead to a recurrence of the very thought that one is attempting to suppress. This ironic effect is the most obvious unwanted outcome of suppression and has been investigated empirically for more than two decades. However, even when suppression does not lead to an ironic rebound of the unwanted thought, it puts an insidious cognitive load on the individual attempting to suppress. (...) Moreover, whether or not suppression leads to an exacerbation of the unwanted thought, it is rarely successful, and hence adds to the individual’s distress. In this article we describe the consequences of suppression and consider how it might complicate a range of emotional disorders. Taken together, studies on thought suppression in psychopathology present a more nuanced picture now than was emerging in the early years of its investigation. Some evidence is consistent with the idea that the counterproductive effects of suppression are causally implicated in disorders, but a more parsimonious conclusion is that thought suppression often acts as a complication of disorders. In certain disorders, suppression complicates the disorder by leading to an ironic rebound of the unwanted thoughts. In all disorders, the cost of undertaking suppression is a persistent cognitive load, which undermines the ability to suppress and sets off a cycle of failed expectations and distress. (shrink)
Sometimes it feels as though we can control our minds. We catch ourselves looking out the window when we should be paying attention to someone talking, for example, and we purposefully return our attention to the conversation. Or we wrest our minds away from the bothersome thought of an upcoming dental appointment to focus on anything we can find that makes us less nervous. Control attempts such as these can meet with success, leaving us feeling the masters of our consciousness. (...) Yet at other times.. (shrink)
��This experiment found that the speed of thought affects mood. Thought speed was manipulated via participants’ paced reading of statements designed to induce either an elated or a depressed mood. Participants not only experienced more positive mood in response to elation than in response to depression statements, but also experienced an independent increase in positive mood when they had been thinking fast rather than slow—for both elation and depression statements. This effect of thought speed extended beyond mood to other experiences (...) often associated with mania (i.e., feelings of power, feelings of creativity, a heightened sense of energy, and inﬂated self-esteem or grandiosity). (shrink)
An unwanted thought appears to be cued easily by reminders in the environment but often the thought itself seems to cue nothing more than the desire to eliminate it from consciousness. This unusual asymmetry in the way unwanted thoughts are linked to other thoughts was the focus of the present research. Participants who were asked to suppress a thought or to concentrate on it completed a task assessing the influence of priming on reaction time for word/non-word judgments. Results revealed that (...) suppression under cognitive load produced asymmetric priming: Priming with the associate of a suppressed word speeded RT for the suppressed word, but priming with a suppressed word did not speed RT for associated words. These findings suggest that thought suppression induces an unusual form of cognitive accessibility in which movement of activation toward the suppressed thought from associates is facilitated but movement of activation away from the suppressed thought to associates is undermined. (shrink)
The authors found that the feeling of authorship for mental actions such as solving problems is enhanced by effort cues experienced during mental activity; misattribution of effort cues resulted in inadvertent plagiarism. Pairs of participants took turns solving anagrams as they exerted effort on an unrelated task. People inadvertently plagiarized their partners’ answers more often when they experienced high incidental effort while working on the problem and reduced effort as the solution appeared. This result was found for efforts produced when (...) participants squeezed a handgrip during the task (Experiment 1) or when the anagram was displayed in a font that was difficult to read (Experiments 2, 3a, and 3b). Plagiarism declined, however, when participants attended to the source of the effort cues (Experiments 3a and 3b). These results suggest that effort misattribution can influence authorship processing for mental activities. (shrink)