I just lost it! Fear and anger reduce the sense of agency: a study using intentional binding.


Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London (UCL), Alexandra House, 17 Queen Square, London, WC1N 3AR, UK. [Email]


Two recent studies have demonstrated that increases in arousal states lead to an increase people's sense of agency, i.e., the subjective experience of controlling one's own voluntary actions (Minohara et al. in Front Psychol 7:1165, 2016; Wen et al. in Conscious Cogn 36:87-95, 2015). We here extend these findings by showing that arousal states with negative emotional valence, such as fear and anger, decrease sense of agency. Anger and fear are negative emotional states. Anecdotally, they are often invoked as reasons for losing control, and neuroscientific evidence confirms important effects on the brain's action control systems. Surprisingly, the subjective experience of acting in anger or fear has scarcely been investigated experimentally. Thus, the legal notion that these intense emotions may undermine normal voluntary control over actions and outcomes (the 'Loss of Control', a partial defence for murder) lacks any clear evidence base. In three laboratory experiments, we measured sense of agency using an implicit measure based on time perception (the "intentional binding" paradigm). These actions occurred in either an emotionally neutral condition, or in a fearful (experiments 1 and 2) or angry state (experiment 3). In line with our hypotheses, fear or anger reduced the subjective sense of control over an action outcome, even though the objective causal link between action and outcome remained the same. This gap between the objective facts of agency, and a reduced subjective experience of agency under emotional conditions, has important implications for society and law.


Anger,Fear,Intentional binding,Loss of control,Sense of agency,

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