When the brain changes its mind: flexibility of action selection in instructed and free choices.
Fleming SM., Mars RB., Gladwin TE., Haggard P.
The neural mechanisms underlying the selection and initiation of voluntary actions in the absence of external instructions are poorly understood. These mechanisms are usually investigated using a paradigm where different movement choices are self-generated by a participant on each trial. These "free choices" are compared with "instructed choices," in which a stimulus informs subjects which action to make on each trial. Here, we introduce a novel paradigm to investigate these modes of action selection, by measuring brain processes evoked by an instruction to either reverse or maintain free and instructed choices in the period before a "go" signal. An unpredictable instruction to change a response plan had different effects on free and instructed choices. In instructed trials, change cues evoked a larger P300 than no-change cues, leading to a significant interaction of choice and change condition. Free-choice trials displayed a trend toward the opposite pattern. These results suggest a difference between updating of free and instructed action choices. We propose a theoretical framework for internally generated action in which representations of alternative actions remain available until a late stage in motor preparation. This framework emphasizes the high modifiability of voluntary action.