Intention, attention and the temporal experience of action

Conscious Cogn. 2007 Jun;16(2):211-20. doi: 10.1016/j.concog.2006.07.002. Epub 2006 Aug 24.


Subjects estimated the time of intentions to perform an action, of the action itself, or of an auditory effect of the action. A perceptual attraction or binding effect occurred between actions and the effects that followed them. Judgements of intentions did not show this binding, suggesting they are represented independently of actions and their effects. In additional unpredictable judgement conditions, subjects were instructed only after each trial which of these events to judge, thus discouraging focussed attention to a specific event. Stronger binding effects were found, with intention, action and effect fusing to a single central point in time. In a control task, subjects reported the time of the first or second tone in sequence. Tone sequences showed no binding at all when subjects knew in advance which tone to judge, but showed the same fusion as actions when the event to be judged was not predictable. Binding of actions and effects, but not of tone sequences, occurs pre-attentively, and automatically. The data are consistent with a reconstructive process, implemented after actions, which generates a coherent sense of agency. However, this process should only be triggered only when our actions make it appropriate. We suggest that this mechanism is triggered in advance by efferent processing. This conclusion was supported by a further study in deafferented subject IW. This subject showed the normal binding of a tone towards an action, although his experience of the action was of pre-motor, rather than peripheral origin. The experience of intentional action involves an interplay between pre-motor and reconstructive processes.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Attention*
  • Awareness*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intention*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Proprioception
  • Psychomotor Performance*
  • Psychophysiology
  • Time Perception*