Different brain structures related to self- and external-agency attribution: a brief review and meta-analysis

Brain Struct Funct. 2011 Jun;216(2):151-7. doi: 10.1007/s00429-010-0298-1. Epub 2011 Jan 7.


Several neuroimaging studies have consistently shown activations of areas surrounding the temporo-parietal junction (TPJ) during tasks exploring the sense of agency. Beyond TPJ, activations in different structures, such as the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dLPFC), the pre-supplementary motor area (pre-SMA), the insula and the precuneus have been reported. Moreover, a possible dissociation between self- and external-agency attribution has been suggested. To test the hypothesis of distinct neural correlates for self- and external-agency attribution a quantitative meta-analysis, based on activation likelihood estimation (ALE) method, across 15 PET and fMRI studies (228 subjects) was conducted. Results show converging activations including the TPJ, pre-SMA, precuneus and dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (dMPFC) in external-agency, while insula activation was related to self-agency. We discuss these findings, highlighting the role of the insula, and calling for the use of alternative paradigms such as intentional binding and interactive imitation to study agency.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cerebral Cortex / anatomy & histology*
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Internal-External Control*
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Positron-Emission Tomography