Getting stuff done: the sense of agency in the human brain

Patrick Haggard, UCL, London & ENS, Paris

Email: p.haggard@ucl.ac.uk


An interesting but often-ignored feature of the human brain is its capacity to change the world.  To do this, the brain needs at least three things: a way of deciding what to do, a way of doing it, a way of checking whether it worked.  The body is the brain’s way of actually getting done what it has decided to do.  I will show that the brain houses some distinctive machinery for tuning these mechanisms for getting things done.  In particular, people have a distinctive experience, which I call ‘sense of agency’ when their decisions and voluntary actions produce external consequences that they care about.  The sense of agency is the subjective counterpart of the brain using the body to reshape the external world.