The effects of freedom of choice in action selection on perceived mental effort and the sense of agency




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Previous research showed that increasing the number of action alternatives enhances the sense of agency (SoA). Here, we investigated whether choice space could affect subjective judgments of mental effort experienced during action selection and examined the link between subjective effort and the SoA. Participants performed freely selected (among two, three, or four options) and instructed actions that produced pleasant or unpleasant tones. We obtained action-effect interval estimates to quantify intentional binding – the perceived interval compression between actions and outcomes and feeling of control (FoC) ratings. Additionally, participants re- ported the degree of mental effort they experienced during action selection. We found that both binding and FoC were systematically enhanced with increasing choice-level. Outcome valence did not influence binding, while FoC was stronger for pleasant than unpleasant outcomes. Finally, freely chosen actions were associated with low subjective effort and slow responses (i.e., higher reaction times), and instructed actions were associated with high effort and fast responses. Although the conditions that yielded the greatest and least subjective effort also yielded the greatest and least binding and FoC, there was no significant correlation between subjective effort and SoA measures. Overall, our results raise interesting questions about how agency may be influenced by response selection demands (i.e., indexed by speed of responding) and subjective mental effort. Our work also highlights the importance of understanding how subjective mental effort and response speed are related to popular notions of fluency in response selection.


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Action selection, Choice, Perceived mental effort, Intentional binding, Outcome valence, Sense of agency


Barlas, Z., Hockley, W. E. and Obhi, S. S. (2017) The effects of freedom of choice in action selection on perceived mental effort and the sense of agency. Acta Psychologica, 180, pp. 122–129.


Research Institute

Institute for Psychological Science