Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
One of the functions of the brain is to predict sensory consequences of our own actions. In auditory processing, self-initiated sounds evoke a smaller brain response than passive sound exposure of the same sound sequence. Previous work suggests that this response attenuation reflects a predictive mechanism to differentiate the sensory consequences of one's own actions from other sensory input, which seems to form the basis for the sense of agency (recognizing oneself as the agent of the movement). This study addresses the question whether attenuation of brain responses to self-initiated sounds can be explained by brain activity involved in movement planning rather than movement execution. We recorded ERPs in response to sounds initiated by button presses. In one condition, participants moved a finger to press the button voluntarily, whereas in another condition, we initiated a similar, but involuntary, finger movement by stimulating the corresponding region of the primary motor cortex with TMS. For involuntary movements, no movement intention (and no feeling of agency) could be formed; thus, no motor plans were available to the forward model. A portion of the brain response evoked by the sounds, the N1-P2 complex, was reduced in amplitude following voluntary, self-initiated movements, but not following movements initiated by motor cortex stimulation. Our findings demonstrate that movement intention and the corresponding feeling of agency determine sensory attenuation of brain responses to self-initiated sounds. The present results support the assumptions of a predictive internal forward model account operating before primary motor cortex activation.