Latent awareness: Early conscious access to motor preparation processes is linked to the readiness potential

Neuroimage. 2019 Nov 15:202:116140. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2019.116140. Epub 2019 Aug 29.


An experience of intention to move accompanies execution of some voluntary actions. The Readiness Potential (RP) is an increasing negativity over motor brain areas prior to voluntary movement. Classical studies suggested that the RP starts before intention is consciously accessed as measured by offline recall-based reports, yet the interpretation of the RP and its temporal relation to awareness of intention remain controversial. We designed a task in which self-paced actions could be interrupted at random times by a visual cue that probed online awareness of intention. Participants were instructed to respond by pressing a key if they felt they were actively preparing a self-paced movement at the time of the cue (awareness report), but to ignore the cue otherwise. We show that an RP-like activity was more strongly present before the cue for probes eliciting awareness reports than otherwise. We further show that recall-based reports of the time of conscious intention are linked to visual attention processes, whereas online reports elicited by a probe are not. Our results suggest that awareness of intention is accessible at relatively early stages of motor preparation and that the RP is specifically associated with this conscious experience.

Keywords: Attention; EEG; Intention; Voluntary action.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology
  • Awareness / physiology*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Consciousness / physiology*
  • Contingent Negative Variation*
  • Electroencephalography
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intention*
  • Male
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Visual Perception / physiology
  • Volition / physiology*
  • Young Adult