Intending to perform an action and then immediately executing it is a mundane process. The cognitive and neural mechanisms involved in this process of "proximal" intention formation and execution, in the face of multiple options to choose from, are not clear, however. Especially, it is not clear how intentions are formed when the choice makes no difference. Here we used behavioral and electrophysiological measures to investigate the temporal dynamics of proximal intention formation and "change of intention" in a free picking scenario, in which the alternatives are on a par for the participant. Participants pressed a right or left button following either an instructive visible arrow cue or a visible neutral "free-choice" cue, both preceded by a masked arrow prime. The goal of the prime was to induce a bias toward pressing the left or right button. Presumably, when the choice is arbitrary, such bias should determine the decision. EEG lateralized readiness potentials and EMG measurements revealed that the prime indeed induced an intention to move in one direction. However, we discovered a signature of "change of intention" in both the Instructed and Free-choice decisions. These results suggest that, even in arbitrary choices, biases present in the neural system for choosing one or another option may be overruled and point to a curious "picking deliberation" phenomenon. We discuss a possible neural scenario that could explain this phenomenon.
Year of publication
J Cogn Neurosci. 2015 Nov;27(11):2133-46. doi: 10.1162/jocn_a_00842. Epub 2015 Jun 23.