The neural basis of meta-volition
Nachev P., Roberts RE., Husain M., Kennard C.
© 2019, The Author(s). Volition is the power to act beyond simple, automatic responses. We can act voluntarily because we can choose to act otherwise than immediate, external circumstances dictate. But we can also choose to allow ourselves to be led automatically by events around us. The neural basis of this higher power to suspend volition— which we term meta-volition—is unknown. Here we show that inter-individual differences in meta-volition are reflected in extensive, highly lateralised differences in right frontal white matter as indexed by diffusion tensor imaging. Paradoxically, participants with enhanced white matter optimality in these regions are less able to exercise meta-volition, finding it harder to suspend volition. This suggests volition is dependent less on any hierarchical system of meta-volitional control than on the extent to which an extensive network subserving higher volitional powers is competitively dominant over others. A fundamentally parallel neural organisation of human voluntary action at the highest level is thereby implied.