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Conscious Cogn. 2004 Sep;13(3):646-54.

Anomalous control: when 'free-will' is not conscious.

Author information

  • 1Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London, 17 Queen Square, London WC1N 3AR, UK. p.haggard@ucl.ac.uk


The conscious feeling of exercising 'free-will' is fundamental to our sense of self. However, in some psychopathological conditions actions may be experienced as involuntary or unwilled. We have used suggestion in hypnosis to create the experience of involuntariness (anomalous control) in normal participants. We compared a voluntary finger movement, a passive movement and a voluntary movement suggested by hypnosis to be 'involuntary.' Hypnosis itself had no effect on the subjective experience of voluntariness associated with willed movements and passive movements or on time estimations of their occurrence. However, subjective time estimates of a hypnotically-suggested, 'involuntary' finger movement were more similar to those for passive movements than for voluntary movements. The experience of anomalous control is qualitatively and quantitatively different from the normal conscious experience of a similar act produced intentionally. The experience of anomalous control may be produced either by pathology, or, in our case, by suggestion.

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