Neural correlates of sense of agency in motor control: A neuroimaging meta-analysis

PLoS One. 2020 Jun 5;15(6):e0234321. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0234321. eCollection 2020.


The sense of agency (SoA) refers to the perception that an action is the consequence of one's own intention. Studies exploring the SoA with neuroimaging techniques summarized the available data and confirmed a role of fronto-parietal areas and subcortical structures. However, these studies focused on specific regions of interest. We thus conducted a whole-brain meta-analysis to verify which regions emerge as significant for the SoA, specifically during motor execution. We performed a systematic search on PubMed, PsycINFO and Cochrane databases with the following inclusion criteria: studies investigating SoA with a visuo-motor task by means of neuroimaging in healthy subjects. We performed a quantitative, whole-brain, meta-analysis of neural correlates of the SoA based on the activation likelihood estimation. Of the 785 articles identified by our search, 22 studies met our inclusion criteria (169 foci, 295 subjects for decreased agency, and 58 foci, 165 subjects for normal agency). Neural correlates of decreased agency were the bilateral temporo-parietal junction (MNI: 50,-54,14; -44,-52,42; -48,-56,8). Normal agency showed no significant clusters of activation. This meta-analysis confirmed the key role of areas responsible for decreased SoA during motor control, whereas normal agency did not show a specific neural signature. This study sets the ground for future regions-of-interest analyses of neural correlates of SoA, as well as potential neuromodulation studies, which might be relevant in medical conditions presenting with abnormal SoA.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging*
  • Brain / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intention
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motor Activity / physiology*
  • Neuroimaging / methods
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Self Concept*
  • Self-Control / psychology
  • Sensorimotor Cortex / diagnostic imaging
  • Sensorimotor Cortex / pathology

Grant support

SA received the following fundings: Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) [grant number PP00P3_176985] (, Fondation Leenaards [grant number 3642] ( The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.