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Only giving orders? An experimental study of the sense of agency when giving or receiving commands

Caspar, EA; Cleeremans, A; Haggard, P; (2018) Only giving orders? An experimental study of the sense of agency when giving or receiving commands. PLoS ONE 1 , 13 (9) 10.1371/journal.pone.0204027. Green open access

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Abstract

In human societies, agents are assumed to experience being the author of their own actions. These basic motoric experiences of action are influenced by social hierarchies, leading to surprising and morally significant results. Here we ask whether, under coercion, the sense of agency and responsibility pass from the person who receives orders to the person who gives them. Volunteers took turns to play the roles of ‘commander’, ‘agent’ or ‘victim’ in a task where the commander coerced the agent to deliver painful shocks to the ‘victim’. We used ‘intentional binding’ as an implicit measure of sense of agency in both commanders and agents, in conditions of coercion and free-choice. We observed a reduced sense of agency when agents received coercive instructions, relative to when they freely chose which action to execute. We also found that sense of agency in the commanders was reduced when they coerced agents to administer the shock on their behalf, relative to when they acted by themselves. This last effect was associated with the commander’s self-reported level on a psychopathy scale. Thus, coercion resulted in neither commander nor agent feeling agency for the effect of the action, as measured through implicit methods. Our results could have profound implications for social decision-making and social regulation of moral behaviour.

Type: Article
Title: Only giving orders? An experimental study of the sense of agency when giving or receiving commands
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0204027
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0204027
Language: English
Additional information: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Div of Psychology and Lang Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Div of Psychology and Lang Sciences > Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10059560
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