Experiencing oneself vs another person as being the cause of an action: the neural correlates of the experience of agency

Neuroimage. 2002 Mar;15(3):596-603. doi: 10.1006/nimg.2001.1009.


The present study is aimed at identifying the neural correlates of two kinds of attribution: experiencing oneself as the cause of an action (the sense of agency) or experiencing another person as being the cause of that action. The experimental conditions were chosen so that they differed only in their requirement to attribute an action to another person or to oneself. The same motor task and the same visual stimuli were used in the experimental conditions. Subjects used a joystick to drive a circle along a T-shaped path. They were told that the circle would be driven either by themselves or by the experimenter. In the former case subjects were requested to drive the circle, to be aware that they drove the circle, and thus to mentally attribute the action seen on the screen to themselves. In the latter case they were also requested to perform the task, but they were aware that action seen on the screen was driven by the experimenter. In accord with previous studies, the results showed that being aware of causing an action was associated with activation in the anterior insula, whereas being aware of not causing the action and attributing it to another person was associated with activation in the inferior parietal cortex. These two regions are involved in the perception of complex representations of the self and of its interactions with the external world. We suggest that the anterior insula is concerned with the integration of all the concordant multimodal sensory signals associated with voluntary movements. The inferior parietal cortex, in contrast, represents movements in an allocentric coding system that can be applied to the actions of others as well as the self.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Awareness / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Enhancement
  • Internal-External Control*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Motor Cortex / physiology
  • Parietal Lobe / physiology*
  • Problem Solving
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Somatosensory Cortex / physiology