A substantial body of research in the past few decades has converged on the idea that the so-called "sense of agency", the feeling of being in control of our own actions, arises from the integration of multiple sources of information at different levels. In this study, we investigated whether a measurable sense of agency can be detected for mental actions, without the contribution of motor components. We used a fake action-effect paradigm, where participants were led to think that a motor action or a particular thought could trigger a sound. Results showed that the high-level sense of agency, measured through explicit reports, was of comparable strength for motor and mental actions. The ‘intentional binding’ effect, a phenomenon typically associated with the experience of agency, was also observed for both motor and mental actions, with the only exception of short action-effect delays. Furthermore, a consistent relationship between explicit reports of agency and intentional binding was found. Taken together, our results provide novel insights into the specific role of intentional cues in instantiating a sense of agency, even in the absence of motor signals. These results may have important implications for future brain-computer interfaces as well as for the study of pathological disruptions of agency.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience