Imaging volition: what the brain can tell us about the will

Exp Brain Res. 2013 Sep;229(3):301-12. doi: 10.1007/s00221-013-3472-x. Epub 2013 Mar 21.


The question of how we can voluntarily control our behaviour dates back to the beginnings of scientific psychology. Currently, there are two empirical research disciplines tackling human volition: cognitive neuroscience and social psychology. To date, there is little interaction between the two disciplines in terms of the investigation of human volition. The aim of the current article is to highlight recent brain imaging work on human volition and to relate social psychological concepts of volition to the functional neuroanatomy of intentional action. A host of studies indicate that the medial prefrontal cortex plays a crucial role in voluntary action. Accordingly, we postulate that social psychological concepts of volition can be investigated using neuroimaging techniques, and propose that by developing a social cognitive neuroscience of human volition, we may gain a deeper understanding of this fascinating and complex aspect of the human mind.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping / methods
  • Choice Behavior / physiology
  • Decision Making / physiology
  • Humans
  • Volition / physiology*