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Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2000 Dec 29; 355(1404): 1771–1788.
PMCID: PMC1692910

Abnormalities in the awareness and control of action.


Much of the functioning of the motor system occurs without awareness. Nevertheless, we are aware of some aspects of the current state of the system and we can prepare and make movements in the imagination. These mental representations of the actual and possible states of the system are based on two sources: sensory signals from skin and muscles, and the stream of motor commands that have been issued to the system. Damage to the neural substrates of the motor system can lead to abnormalities in the awareness of action as well as defects in the control of action. We provide a framework for understanding how these various abnormalities of awareness can arise. Patients with phantom limbs or with anosognosia experience the illusion that they can move their limbs. We suggest that these representations of movement are based on streams of motor commands rather than sensory signals. Patients with utilization behaviour or with delusions of control can no longer properly link their intentions to their actions. In these cases the impairment lies in the representation of intended movements. The location of the neural damage associated with these disorders suggests that representations of the current and predicted state of the motor system are in parietal cortex, while representations of intended actions are found in prefrontal and premotor cortex.

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Selected References

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