Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Inhibiting inappropriate action is key to human behavioral control. Studies of action inhibition largely investigated external stop signals, yet these are rare in everyday life. Instead healthy adults exert “self-control,” implying an ability to decide internally to stop actions. We added “choose for yourself” stimuli to a conventional go/no-go task to compare reactive versus intentional action and inhibition. No-go reactions showed the N2 EEG potential characteristic of inhibiting prepotent motor responses, whereas go reactions did not. Interestingly, the N2 component was present for intentional choices both to act and also to inhibit. Thus, free choices involved a first step of intentionally inhibiting prepotent responses before generating or withholding an action. Intentional inhibition has a crucial role breaking the flow of stimulus-driven responding, allowing expression of volitional decisions. Even decisions to initiate self-generated actions require this prior negative form of volition, ensuring the “freedom from immediacy” characteristic of human behavior.