Experience of agency and sense of responsibility

Conscious Cogn. 2011 Dec;20(4):1847-54. doi: 10.1016/j.concog.2011.08.014. Epub 2011 Sep 14.


The experience of agency refers to the feeling that we control our own actions, and through them the outside world. In many contexts, sense of agency has strong implications for moral responsibility. For example, a sense of agency may allow people to choose between right and wrong actions, either immediately, or on subsequent occasions through learning about the moral consequences of their actions. In this study we investigate the relation between the experience of operant action, and responsibility for action outcomes using the intentional binding effect (Haggard, Clark, & Kalogeras, 2002) as an implicit, quantitative measure related to sense of agency. We studied the time at which people perceived simple manual actions and their effects, when these actions were embedded in scenarios where their actions had unpredictable consequences that could be either moral or merely economic. We found an enhanced binding of effects back towards the actions that caused them, implying an enhanced sense of agency, in moral compared to non-moral contexts. We also found stronger binding for effects with severely negative, compared to moderately negative, values. A tight temporal association between action and effect may be a low-level phenomenal marker of the sense of responsibility.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Decision Making*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Judgment
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Morals*
  • Personal Autonomy
  • Social Responsibility*
  • Time Factors
  • Young Adult