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The neural mechanisms underlying the selection and initiation of voluntary actions in the absence of external instructions are poorly understood. These mechanisms are usually investigated using a paradigm where different movement choices are self-generated by a participant on each trial. These "free choices" are compared with "instructed choices," in which a stimulus informs subjects which action to make on each trial. Here, we introduce a novel paradigm to investigate these modes of action selection, by measuring brain processes evoked by an instruction to either reverse or maintain free and instructed choices in the period before a "go" signal. An unpredictable instruction to change a response plan had different effects on free and instructed choices. In instructed trials, change cues evoked a larger P300 than no-change cues, leading to a significant interaction of choice and change condition. Free-choice trials displayed a trend toward the opposite pattern. These results suggest a difference between updating of free and instructed action choices. We propose a theoretical framework for internally generated action in which representations of alternative actions remain available until a late stage in motor preparation. This framework emphasizes the high modifiability of voluntary action.

Original publication




Journal article


Cereb Cortex

Publication Date





2352 - 2360


Adult, Analysis of Variance, Attention, Brain Mapping, Cerebral Cortex, Choice Behavior, Cues, Electroencephalography, Evoked Potentials, Motor, Female, Humans, Image Processing, Computer-Assisted, Male, Movement, Photic Stimulation, Psychomotor Performance, Reaction Time, Signal Processing, Computer-Assisted