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Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience

June 2013, Vol. 25, No. 6, Pages 830-833
(doi: 10.1162/jocn_a_00368)
© 2013 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Searching for the Neural Correlates of Conscious Intention
Article PDF (75.28 KB)

It is typically assumed that the conscious experience of wanting to move is not the driving force for motor planning, but the secondary consequence of the unconscious neural processes preparing the movement. A recent study by Schneider et al. [Schneider, L., Houdayer, E., Bai, O., & Hallett, M. What we think before a voluntary movement. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 25, 822–829, 2013] seems consistent with this dominant view by showing that the brain can be preparing to make voluntary movements not only “prior to the conscious appreciation that this is happening” but also “while subjects are thinking about something else.” However, an alternative hypothesis exists. It is supported by several lines of evidence and suggests that the early neural signals recorded by Schneider et al. (and others) do not reflect movement preparation per se, but rather a buildup in neural activity that ultimately leads to the emergence of a conscious intention to move. According to this view, the conscious experience of wanting to move is not the consequence but the cause of movement initiation.