Influences of unconscious priming on voluntary actions: Role of the rostral cingulate zone

Martyn Teuchies, Jelle Demanet, Nura Sidarus, Patrick Haggard, Michaël A. Stevens, Marcel Brass

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The ability to make voluntary, free choices is fundamental to what it means to be human. A key brain region that is involved in free choices is the rostral cingulate zone (RCZ), which is part of the medial frontal cortex. Previous research has shown that activity in this brain region can be modulated by bottom-up information while making free choices. The current study extends those findings, and shows, for the first time, that activation in the RCZ can also be modulated by subliminal information. We used a subliminal response priming paradigm to bias free and cued choices. We observed more activation in the RCZ when participants made a choice that went against the prime's suggestion, compared to when they chose according to the prime. This shows that the RCZ plays an important role in overcoming externally-triggered conflict between different response options, even when the stimuli triggering this conflict are not consciously perceived. Our results suggest that an important mechanism of endogenous action in the RCZ may therefore involve exerting an internally-generated action choice against conflicting influences, such as external sensory evidence. We further found that subliminal information also modulated activity in the anterior insula and the supramarginal gyrus.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)243-252
Number of pages10
Early online date30 Apr 2016
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jul 2016


  • Free choice
  • Intentional control
  • Response conflict
  • Rostral cingulate zone
  • Subliminal response priming
  • Volition

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