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Title: Prospective sense of agency : cognitive and neural mechanisms
Author: Sidarus, N. C.
ISNI:       0000 0004 8504 0211
Awarding Body: UCL (University College London)
Current Institution: University College London (University of London)
Date of Award: 2016
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The sense of agency (SoA) refers to the sense of being in control of one's actions and, through them, of events in the external world. Much research has focused on how we link our actions to their outcomes. However, the contribution to SoA of processes linking our intentions to our actions has received little attention. The present research focused, therefore, on investigating the cognitive and neural mechanisms through which action selection processes can prospectively inform our SoA. Recent work revealed that influencing action selection through subliminal priming can lead to a reduction in SoA. Here, new tasks and manipulations of action selection were developed. The generalizability of previous results was demonstrated - a consistent reduction in SoA was found when action selection was disrupted. This effect was found for: disruptions at different stages of action selection; for different levels of awareness of distracting stimuli; and were unaffected by whether participants freely chose what to do, or followed an instruction. In other experiments, SoA judgements were tested in the context of a computer game, providing a more ecological and dynamic context than previous studies. Electrophysiological investigations of the neural correlates of agency showed neural monitoring of the action itself was reliably associated with judgements of agency, independently from and in addition to previously-established neural processes for monitoring outcomes. These findings, together with a meta-analysis of available studies, support a dissociation between prospective and retrospective components of SoA. Finally, the influence of social context on action selection and SoA was explored. Under conditions in which outcomes were unambiguously self-caused, the presence of an alternative agent who could act instead of oneself led to both reduced SoA and attenuated neural processing of those outcomes. The prospective sense of agency may be important as an advance predictor of successful action, allowing for immediate corrective action, as well as for learning to adapt behaviour in the future.
Supervisor: Haggard, P. Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available