The current study investigated the effect of conscious intention to act on the Bereitschaftspotential. Situations in which the awareness of acting is minimally expressed were generated by asking 16 participants to press a button after performing a mental imagery task based on animal pictures (automatic condition). The affective responses induced by the pictures were controlled by selecting the animals according to different valences, threatening and neutral. The Bereitschaftspotential associated with the button presses was compared to the observed when similar movements were performed under the basic instructions of the self-paced movement paradigm (willed condition). Enhanced Bereitschaftspotential amplitudes were observed in the willed condition with respect to the automatic condition. This effect was manifested as a negative slope at medial frontocentral sites during the last 500 ms before movement onset. The valence of the pictures did not affect the motor preparatory potentials. The results suggest that significant part of the NS' subcomponent of the readiness potential is associated with the attention to-and, presumably, awareness of-intention to move, possibly reflecting cortical activation from supplementary motor areas. Secondarily, our findings supports that the feeling of threat does not influence the Bereitschaftspotential associated with automatic movements. Regarding methodological issues, the behavioural model of spontaneous voluntary movements proposed in automatic condition can benefit investigations on purely motor (or non-cognitive) subcomponents of the Bereitschaftspotential.
Keywords: Bereitschaftspotential; Conscious intention; EEG; Readiness potential; Volition.