How and when motor intentions form has long been controversial. In particular, the extent to which motor preparation and action-related processes produce a conscious experience of intention remains unknown. Here, we used a brain-computer interface (BCI) while participants performed a self-paced movement task to trigger cues upon the detection of a readiness potential (a well-characterized brain signal that precedes movement) or in its absence. The BCI-triggered cues instructed participants either to move or not to move. Following this instruction, participants reported whether they felt they were about to move at the time the cue was presented. Participants were more likely to report an intention (i) when the cue was triggered by the presence of a readiness potential than when the same cue was triggered by its absence, and (ii) when they had just made an action than when they had not. We further describe a time-dependent integration of these two factors: the probability of reporting an intention was maximal when cues were triggered in the presence of a readiness potential, and when participants also executed an action shortly afterwards. Our results provide a first systematic investigation of how prospective and retrospective components are integrated in forming a conscious intention to move.
Keywords: awareness; brain–computer interface; intention; motor; readiness potential; volition.