The idea that our conscious decisions determine our actions has been challenged by a report suggesting that the brain starts to prepare for a movement before the person concerned has consciously decided to move (Libet, Gleason, Wright, & Pearl, 1983). Libet et al. claimed that their results show that our actions are not consciously initiated. The current article describes two experiments in which we attempted to replicate Libet et al.'s comparison of participants' movement-related brain activity with the reported times of their decisions to move and also the reported times of their decisions of which hand to move. We also looked at the distribution of participants' reports over time to evaluate an alternative explanation of Libet et al.'s (1983) results. Although the Readiness Potential was usually present before all of the decisions to move, consistent with the findings of Keller and Heckhausen (1990) and Libet et al. (1983), we found that many reported decision times were before the onset of the Lateralized Readiness Potential, which measures hand-specific movement preparation. The latter finding is consistent with the conclusion that the LRP always started after the conscious decision to move. We conclude that even though activity related to movement anticipation may be present before a conscious decision to move, the cortical preparation necessary for the movement to happen immediately may not start until after the conscious decision to move.
Document Type: Research Article
Department of Psychology, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand