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Psychol Sci. 2011 Jan;22(1):103-9. doi: 10.1177/0956797610391100. Epub 2010 Dec 1.

Effects of clock monitoring on electroencephalographic activity: is unconscious movement initiation an artifact of the clock?

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Department of Psychology, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand.


Electroencephalographic (EEG) activity was recorded while participants waited to make spontaneous key-press movements (Experiment 1) or waited for tones in a pitch judgment task (Experiment 2). In one condition of each experiment, participants also had to report the position of a spot traveling on a clock at the crucial time point (i.e., when they decided to move or when the tone was presented), mimicking a procedure used to assess the time of conscious awareness of an event of interest. In a second condition, there was no clock or temporal judgment. Average EEG activity preceding key presses was substantially different when participants had to monitor the clock than when they did not. Smaller clock-related differences in average EEG activity were also present preceding tone onsets. The effects of clock monitoring on EEG activity could be responsible for previous reports that movement-related brain activity begins before participants have consciously decided to move (e.g., Libet, Gleason, Wright, & Pearl, 1983).

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