Bootstrapping Agency: How Control-Relevant Information Affects Motivation

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Abstract

How does information about one’s control over the environment (e.g., having an own-action effect) influence motivation? The control-based response selection framework was proposed to predict and explain such findings. Its key tenant is that control relevant information modulates both the frequency and speed of responses by determining whether a perceptual event is an outcome of one’s actions or not. To test this framework empirically, the current study examines whether and how temporal and spatial contiguity/predictability—previously established as being important for one’s sense of agency—modulate motivation from control. In 5 experiments, participants responded to a cue, potentially triggering a perceptual effect. Temporal (Experiments 1a–c) and spatial (Experiments 2a and b) contiguity/predictability between actions and their potential effects were experimentally manipulated. The influence of these control-relevant factors was measured, both indirectly (through their effect on explicit judgments of agency) and directly on response time and response frequency. The pattern of results was highly consistent with the control-based response selection framework in suggesting that control relevant information reliably modulates the impact of “having an effect” on different levels of action selection. We discuss the implications of this study for the notion of motivation from control and for the empirical work on the sense of agency.

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