Intentional action: conscious experience and neural prediction

Conscious Cogn. 2003 Dec;12(4):695-707. doi: 10.1016/s1053-8100(03)00052-7.


Intentional action involves both a series of neural events in the motor areas of the brain, and also a distinctive conscious experience that "I" am the author of the action. This paper investigates some possible ways in which these neural and phenomenal events may be related. Recent models of motor prediction are relevant to the conscious experience of action as well as to its neural control. Such models depend critically on matching the actual consequences of a movement against its internally predicted effects. However, it remains unclear whether our conscious experience of action depends on a precise matching process, or a retrospective inference that "I" must have been responsible for a particular event. We report an experiment in which normal subjects judged the perceived time of either intentional actions, involuntary movements, or subsequent effects (auditory tones) of these. We found that the subject's intention to produce the auditory tone produced an intentional binding between the perceived times of the subject's action and the tone. However, if the intention was interrupted by an imposed involuntary movement, followed by the identical tone, no such binding occurred. The phenomenology of intentional action requires an appropriate predictive link between intentions and effects, rather than a retrospective inference that "I" caused the effect.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Awareness / physiology
  • Consciousness / physiology*
  • Ego*
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Evoked Potentials, Motor / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intention*
  • Internal-External Control
  • Male
  • Motivation
  • Motor Cortex / physiology
  • Muscle, Skeletal / innervation
  • Problem Solving
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*