On measuring the perceived onsets of spontaneous actions.
Lau HC., Rogers RD., Passingham RE.
We investigated the neural mechanisms underlying the timing procedure that was devised by Libet et al. (1983) to measure the onset of conscious motor intentions in spontaneous actions. We previously showed that, when participants were required to estimate the onset of their intentions using this procedure, the activity in the presupplementary motor area (pre-SMA) was enhanced. Here, we show that when participants were required to estimate the onset of their motor executions (instead of their intentions), the activity in the cingulate motor area was enhanced. Across participants, the degree of this neural enhancement was correlated with the degree of perceptual bias: the higher the degree of enhancement, the earlier the perception. Analysis of data from a previous experiment suggests that the same principle holds true for the relationship between the perceived onset of intentions and the activity in the pre-SMA. We therefore argue that the timing method of Libet et al. (1983) is problematic, because the measuring process affects the neural representations of action and thus also the perceived onsets that the method is designed to measure.