Integrating prospective and retrospective cues to the sense of agency: a multi-study investigation


Sense of agency (SoA) refers to the experience of voluntary control over one’s own actions, and, through them, over events in the outside world. Recent accounts suggest that SoA involves an integration of various cues. These include prospective cues, for example, related to the fluency of action selection, and retrospective cues, linked to outcome monitoring. It remains unclear whether these cues may have independent effects on SoA, and, in particular, how their relative contributions may change during instrumental learning. In the present study, we explored these issues by conducting a multi-study analysis of seven published and unpublished studies on the role of prospective cues to the SoA. Our main question was how the effects of selection fluency on SoA might change as information about action–outcome contingencies is gathered. Results show that selection fluency can have a general and consistent influence on the SoA, independent of outcome monitoring. This suggests selection fluency is used as a heuristic cue, to prospectively inform our SoA. In addition, our results show that the influence of selection fluency on SoA may change systematically as action–outcome contingencies are gradually learned. We speculate that dysfluent selection may impair formation of mental associations between action and outcome.

Neuroscience of Consciousness