Probing for intentions: Why clocks do not provide the only measurement of time
Number of pages
SourceFrontiers in Human Neuroscience, 13, (2019), article 68
Article / Letter to editor
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SW OZ DCC AI
Frontiers in Human Neuroscience
SubjectCognitive artificial intelligence
Having an intention to act is commonly operationalized as the moment at which awareness of an urge or decision to act arises. Measuring this moment has been challenging due to the dependence on first-person reports of subjective experience rather than objective behavioral or neural measurements. Commonly, this challenge is met using (variants of) Libet's clock method. In 2008, Matsuhashi and Hallett published a novel probing strategy as an alternative to the clock method. We believe their probe method could provide a valuable addition to the clock method because: it measures the timing of an intention in real-time, it can be combined with additional (tactile, visual or auditory) stimuli to create a more ecologically valid experimental context, and it allows the measurement of the point of no return. Yet to this date, the probe method has not been applied widely - possibly due to concerns about the effects that the probes might have on the intention and/or action preparation processes. To address these concerns, a 2x2 within-subject design is tested. In this design, two variables are manipulated: (1) the requirement of an introspection report and (2) the presence of an auditory probe. Three observables are measured that provide information about the timing of an intention to act: (1) awareness reports of the subjective experience of having an intention, (2) neural preparatory activity for action, and (3) behavioral data of the performed actions. The presence of probes was found to speed up mean action times by roughly 300 ms, but did not alter the neural preparation for action. The requirement of an introspection report did influence brain signals: reducing the amplitude of the readiness potential and increasing the desynchronization in the alpha and beta bands over the motor cortex prior to action onset. By discussing the strengths and weaknesses of the probe method compared to the clock method, we hope to demonstrate its added value and promote its use in future research.
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