The neural processes underlying self-agency

Cereb Cortex. 2011 Jan;21(1):48-55. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhq059. Epub 2010 Apr 8.


Self-agency (SA) is the individual's perception that an action is the consequence of his/her own intention. The neural networks underlying SA are not well understood. We carried out a novel, ecologically valid, virtual-reality experiment using blood oxygen level-dependent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) where SA could be modulated in real-time while subjects performed voluntary finger movements. Behavioral testing was also performed to assess the explicit judgment of SA. Twenty healthy volunteers completed the experiment. Results of the behavioral testing demonstrated paradigm validity along with the identification of a bias that led subjects to over- or underestimate the amount of control they had. The fMRI experiment identified 2 discrete networks. These leading and lagging networks likely represent a spatial and temporal flow of information, with the leading network serving the role of mismatch detection and the lagging network receiving this information and mediating its elevation to conscious awareness, giving rise to SA.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Cerebral Cortex / anatomy & histology
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Executive Function / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Personal Autonomy*
  • Volition / physiology*
  • Young Adult