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Readiness-potentials preceding unrestricted 'spontaneous' vs. pre-planned voluntary acts.


The nature of readiness-potentials (RPs) that may be associated with fully endogenous, 'freely' voluntary acts was investigated. Restriction on when to act were eliminated and instructions fostered 'spontaneity.' The 'self-initiated' RPs exhibited in these conditions were categorizable into two (possibly three) types, all of which could be exhibited by the same subject. Type I had an early onset at about -1050 +/- 175 msec and a long ramp-like form, resembling self-paced RPs. In type II the main negative shift began at about -575 +/- 150 msec, and at about -240 +/- 50 msec in type III. Type II partially resembled the similarly timed NS' component in self-paced RPs. For acts produced at known, preset times, in which freedom of choice was eliminated but planning to act was required, RPs resembled self-initiated type I RPs and self-paced RPs. All RPs were maximal at the vertex, especially type II even though it was also bilaterally asymmetrical. These distributions suggest that cortical areas other than area 4 and 6 contribute importantly, especially to type II. All RPs, whether in self-initiated or pre-planned acts, appear related specifically to preparation for a motor action. When task-related skin stimuli replaced self-initiated movements, under similar conditions of attentiveness (and expectancy), there were either no or relatively small event-preceding-slow potential shifts. All post-stimulus P300 waves were very large. Two volitional processes are postulated: process I is associated with development of pre-planning or preparation to act in the near future (seconds), whether voluntary choice is present (type I RPs) or absent (pre-set RPs); process II, with an onset at roughly 0.5 sec before the act, is associated more uniquely with voluntary choice and with the more specific as well as endogenous urge or intention to act; it can be present in the comparative absence of or in sequence and overlapping with process I.

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