Losing Control in Social Situations: How the Presence of Others Affects Neural Processes Related to Sense of Agency

Frederike Beyer, Nura Sidarus, Stephen Fleming, Patrick Haggard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Social contexts substantially influence individual behavior, but little is known about how they affect cognitive processes related to voluntary action. Previously, it has been shown that social context reduces participants’ sense of agency over the outcomes of their actions and outcome monitoring. In this fMRI study on human volunteers, we investigated the neural mechanisms by which social context alters sense of agency. Participants made costly actions to stop inflating a balloon before it burst. On “social” trials, another player could act in their stead, but we analyzed only trials in which the other player remained passive. We hypothesized that mentalizing processes during social trials would affect decision-making fluency and lead to a decreased sense of agency. In line with this hypothesis, we found increased activity in the bilateral temporo-parietal junction (TPJ), precuneus, and middle frontal gyrus during social trials compared with nonsocial trials. Activity in the precuneus was, in turn, negatively related to sense of agency at a single-trial level. We further found a double dissociation between TPJ and angular gyrus (AG): activity in the left AG was not sensitive to social context but was negatively related to sense of agency. In contrast, activity in the TPJ was modulated by social context but was not sensitive to sense of agency.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0336-17.2018
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 26 Feb 2018


  • Diffusion of responsibility
  • FMRI
  • Mentalizing network
  • Sense of agency

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