Subliminal priming of actions influences sense of control over effects of action.
Wenke D., Fleming SM., Haggard P.
The experience of controlling one's own actions, and through them events in the outside world, is a pervasive feature of human mental life. Two experiments investigated the relation between this sense of control and the internal processes involved in action selection and cognitive control. Action selection was manipulated by subliminally priming left or right keypress actions in response to a supraliminal visual target. The action caused the display of one of several colours as an action effect. The specific colour shown depended on whether the participant's action was compatible or incompatible with the preceding subliminal prime, and not on the prime identity alone. Unlike previous studies, therefore, the primes did not predict the to-be-expected action effects. Participants rated how much control they experienced over the different colours. Replicating previous results, compatible primes facilitated responding, whereas incompatible primes interfered with response selection. Crucially, priming also modulated the sense of control over action effects: participants experienced more control over colours produced by actions that were compatible with the preceding prime than over colours associated with prime-incompatible actions. Experiment 2 showed that this effect was not solely due to priming modulating action-effect contingencies. These results suggest that sense of control is linked to processes of selection between alternative actions, being strongest when selection is smooth and uncontested.