Disrupting the experience of control in the human brain: pre-supplementary motor area contributes to the sense of agency

Proc Biol Sci. 2010 Aug 22;277(1693):2503-9. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2010.0404. Epub 2010 Apr 7.


The feeling of controlling events through one's actions is fundamental to human experience, but its neural basis remains unclear. This 'sense of agency' (SoA) can be measured quantitatively as a temporal linkage between voluntary actions and their external effects. We investigated the brain areas underlying this aspect of action awareness by using theta-burst stimulation to locally and reversibly disrupt human brain function. Disruption of the pre-supplementary motor area (pre-SMA), a key structure for preparation and initiation of a voluntary action, was shown to reduce the temporal linkage between a voluntary key-press action and a subsequent electrocutaneous stimulus. In contrast, disruption of the sensorimotor cortex, which processes signals more directly related to action execution and sensory feedback, had no significant effect. Our results provide the first direct evidence of a pre-SMA contribution to SoA.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Awareness*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Feedback, Sensory*
  • Female
  • Frontal Lobe / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*