The interplay between bottom-up and top-down processes underlying pre-reflective and reflective sense of agency: an integrative approach

Zeynep Barlas

Sense of agency is commonly defined as the sense that one is the author of one’s actions and their consequences. The underlying mechanisms have long been ignored until certain disorders and experimental cases proved it necessary to develop an understanding of how we normally experience agency. Two major accounts have been proposed to address this issue. The predictive account underlines the role of intrinsic and sensorimotor cues, whereas the inferential account posits the contribution of extrinsic cues and high level inferences. The present study is an attempt to combine the two views in the light of the integrative approach that accommodates a dynamic relationship between intrinsic and extrinsic cues. We therefore conducted two multi-phased experiments to examine the purported role of multiple cues in both pre-reflective (intentional binding) and reflective (subjective judgments) sense of agency. In Experiment 1, we found that the congruency between subliminal primes (extrinsic cues) and the predictions (intrinsic cues) influenced the intentional binding effect. In Experiment 2, we rendered the source of the action-outcomes ambiguous. The results showed that the consistency between predictions and actual outcomes of an action along with the time interval between actions and outcomes are important determinants of explicit judgments of agency. We conclude that the underlying mechanism of the sense of agency, in both pre-reflective and reflective forms, has a complex nature and operates upon multiple agency cues.