Difficult action decisions reduce the sense of agency: A study using the Eriksen flanker task

Nura Sidarus, Patrick Haggard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The sense of agency refers to the feeling that we are in control of our actions and, through them, of events in the outside world. Much research has focused on the importance of retrospectively matching predicted and actual action outcomes for a strong sense of agency. Yet, recent studies have revealed that a metacognitive signal about the fluency of action selection can prospectively inform our sense of agency. Fluent, or easy, action selection leads to a stronger sense of agency over action outcomes than dysfluent, or difficult, selection. Since these studies used subliminal priming to manipulate action selection, it remained unclear whether supraliminal stimuli affecting action selection would have similar effects. We used supraliminal flankers to manipulate action selection in response to a central target. Experiment 1 revealed that conflict in action selection, induced by incongruent flankers and targets, led to reduced agency ratings over an outcome that followed the participant's response, relative to neutral and congruent flanking conditions. Experiment 2 replicated this result, and extended it to free choice between alternative actions. Finally, Experiment 3 varied the stimulus onset asynchrony (SOA) between flankers and target. Action selection performance varied with SOA. Agency ratings were always lower in incongruent than congruent trials, and this effect did not vary across SOAs. Sense of agency is influenced by a signal that tracks conflict in action selection, regardless of the visibility of stimuli inducing conflict, and even when the timing of the stimuli means that the conflict may not affect performance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalActa Psychologica
Early online date24 Mar 2016
Publication statusPublished - May 2016


  • Action selection
  • Awareness
  • Conflict
  • Flanker task
  • Sense of agency

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