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Cereb Cortex. 2009 Oct;19(10):2352-60. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhn252. Epub 2009 Feb 11.

When the brain changes its mind: flexibility of action selection in instructed and free choices.

Author information

  • 1Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London, UK. s.fleming@fil.ion.ucl.ac.uk

Abstract

The neural mechanisms underlying the selection and initiation of voluntary actions in the absence of external instructions are poorly understood. These mechanisms are usually investigated using a paradigm where different movement choices are self-generated by a participant on each trial. These "free choices" are compared with "instructed choices," in which a stimulus informs subjects which action to make on each trial. Here, we introduce a novel paradigm to investigate these modes of action selection, by measuring brain processes evoked by an instruction to either reverse or maintain free and instructed choices in the period before a "go" signal. An unpredictable instruction to change a response plan had different effects on free and instructed choices. In instructed trials, change cues evoked a larger P300 than no-change cues, leading to a significant interaction of choice and change condition. Free-choice trials displayed a trend toward the opposite pattern. These results suggest a difference between updating of free and instructed action choices. We propose a theoretical framework for internally generated action in which representations of alternative actions remain available until a late stage in motor preparation. This framework emphasizes the high modifiability of voluntary action.

PMID:
19211661
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
PMCID:
PMC2742594
Free PMC Article

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