UCL Discovery
UCL home » Library Services » Electronic resources » UCL Discovery

Coercion Changes the Sense of Agency in the Human Brain

Caspar, EA; Christensen, JF; Cleeremans, A; Haggard, P; (2016) Coercion Changes the Sense of Agency in the Human Brain. Current Biology , 26 (5) pp. 585-592. 10.1016/j.cub.2015.12.067. Green open access

[img]
Preview
Text
1-s2.0-S096098221600052X-main.pdf

Download (1MB) | Preview

Abstract

People may deny responsibility for negative consequences of their actions by claiming that they were "only obeying orders." The "Nuremberg defense" offers one extreme example, though it is often dismissed as merely an attempt to avoid responsibility. Milgram's classic laboratory studies reported widespread obedience to an instruction to harm, suggesting that social coercion may alter mechanisms of voluntary agency, and hence abolish the normal experience of being in control of one's own actions. However, Milgram's and other studies relied on dissembling and on explicit measures of agency, which are known to be biased by social norms. Here, we combined coercive instructions to administer harm to a co-participant, with implicit measures of sense of agency, based on perceived compression of time intervals between voluntary actions and their outcomes, and with electrophysiological recordings. In two experiments, an experimenter ordered a volunteer to make a key-press action that caused either financial penalty or demonstrably painful electric shock to their co-participant, thereby increasing their own financial gain. Coercion increased the perceived interval between action and outcome, relative to a situation where participants freely chose to inflict the same harms. Interestingly, coercion also reduced the neural processing of the outcomes of one's own action. Thus, people who obey orders may subjectively experience their actions as closer to passive movements than fully voluntary actions. Our results highlight the complex relation between the brain mechanisms that generate the subjective experience of voluntary actions and social constructs, such as responsibility.

Type: Article
Title: Coercion Changes the Sense of Agency in the Human Brain
Location: England
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2015.12.067
Publisher version: http://dxz.doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2015.12.067
Language: English
Additional information: © 2016 The Authors This is an open access article under the CC BY license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).
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/1487955
Downloads since deposit
67Downloads
Download activity - last month
Download activity - last 12 months
Downloads by country - last 12 months

Archive Staff Only

View Item View Item