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Title: Endogenicity and awareness in voluntary action
Author: Pares Pujolras, Elisabeth
ISNI:       0000 0004 8508 0766
Awarding Body: UCL (University College London)
Current Institution: University College London (University of London)
Date of Award: 2019
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The idea that we can trigger and control our actions at will is central to our experience as agents. Here, we investigated different cognitive mechanisms involved in voluntary action control. In the first part of the thesis, we investigated the relationship between motor preparation and awareness of intention. To do so, we used spontaneous action paradigms and combined them with novel random and real-time EEG probing techniques. We investigated two main questions. First, do people know that they are about to do something before they do it? Second, to what extent are delayed intention judgements informed by prospective motor preparation rather than retrospective reconstruction? Our findings suggest that people have some feeling of motor intention before acting and can use it to voluntarily control action initiation in real-time. However, their recall-based intention judgements are strongly influenced by overt events happening after the time of probing. Because most daily-life voluntary actions occur in interaction with the environment, in the second part of the thesis we embedded self-paced actions in a decision-making context. We investigated two ways in which endogenous factors can contribute to action selection. First, as a symmetry-breaking mechanism in contexts of external ambiguity. Second, by top-down modulating decision-making processes. We identified the neural correlates of an internal decision-variable that tracks perceptual decisions and also indexes dynamic changes in endogenous goals. Further, we show that the readiness potential can be found not only preceding spontaneous actions, but also in contexts where actions are informed by evidence but preserve a self-paced nature. In sum, this thesis provides new insights into the cognitive mechanisms underlying conscious experience of intention and provides new tools to investigate voluntary control over action initiation and selection processes.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available