Neural substrates for judgment of self-agency in ambiguous situations

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Abstract

© 2013 Fukushima et al. The sense of agency is the attribution of oneself as the cause of one's own actions and their effects. Accurate agency judgments are essential for adaptive behaviors in dynamic environments, especially in conditions of uncertainty. However, it is unclear how agency judgments are made in ambiguous situations where self-agency and non-self-agency are both possible. Agency attribution is thus thought to require higher-order neurocognitive processes that integrate several possibilities. Furthermore, neural activity specific to self-attribution, as compared with non-self-attribution, may reflect higher-order critical operations that contribute to constructions of self-consciousness. Based on these assumptions, the present study focused on agency judgments under ambiguous conditions and examined the neural correlates of this operation with functional magnetic resonance imaging. Participants performed a simple but demanding agency-judgment task, which required them to report on whether they attributed their own action as the cause of a visual stimulus change. The temporal discrepancy between the participant's action and the visual events was adaptively set to be maximally ambiguous for each individual on a trial-by-trial basis. Comparison with results for a control condition revealed that the judgment of agency was associated with activity in lateral temporo-parietal areas, medial frontal areas, the dorsolateral prefrontal area, and frontal operculum/insula regions. However, most of these areas did not differentiate between self- and non-self-attribution. Instead, self-attribution was associated with activity in posterior midline areas, including the precuneus and posterior cingulate cortex. These results suggest that deliberate self-attribution of an external event is principally associated with activity in posterior midline structures, which is imperative for self-consciousness.

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Fukushima, H., Goto, Y., Maeda, T., Kato, M., & Umeda, S. (2013). Neural substrates for judgment of self-agency in ambiguous situations. PLoS ONE, 8(8). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0072267

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