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Journal Article

One action system or two? Evidence for common central preparatory mechanisms in voluntary and stimulus-driven actions


Schütz-Bosbach,  Simone
Max Planck Research Group Body and Self, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

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Hughes, G., Schütz-Bosbach, S., & Waszak, F. (2011). One action system or two? Evidence for common central preparatory mechanisms in voluntary and stimulus-driven actions. The Journal of Neuroscience, 31 (46), 16692-16699. doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2256-11.2011.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-0012-25A4-2
Human behavior is comprised of an interaction between intentionally driven actions and reactions to changes in the environment. Existing data are equivocal concerning the question of whether these two action systems are independent, involve different brain regions, or overlap. To address this question we investigated whether the degree to which the voluntary action system is activated at the time of stimulus onset predicts reaction times to external stimuli. We recorded event-related potentials while participants prepared and executed left- or right-hand voluntary actions, which were occasionally interrupted by a stimulus requiring either a left- or right-hand response. In trials where participants successfully performed the stimulus-driven response, increased voluntary motor preparation was associated with faster responses on congruent trials (where participants were preparing a voluntary action with the same hand that was then required by the target stimulus), and slower responses on incongruent trials. This suggests that early hand-specific activity in medial frontal cortex for voluntary action trials can be used by the stimulus-driven system to speed responding. This finding questions the clear distinction between voluntary and stimulus-driven action systems.