Agency and responsibility over virtual movements controlled through different paradigms of brain-computer interface
Agency is the attribution of an action to the self and is a prerequisite for experiencing responsibility over its consequences. Here we investigated agency and responsibility by studying the control of movements of an embodied avatar, via brain computer interface (BCI) technology, in immersive virtual reality. After induction of virtual body ownership by visuomotor correlations, healthy participants performed a motor task with their virtual body. We compared the passive observation of the subject's 'own' virtual arm performing the task with (1) the control of the movement through activation of sensorimotor areas (motor imagery) and (2) the control of the movement through activation of visual areas (steady-state visually evoked potentials). The latter two conditions were carried out using a brain-computer interface (BCI) and both shared the intention and the resulting action. We found that BCI-control of movements engenders the sense of agency, which is strongest for sensorimotor areas activation. Furthermore, increased activity of sensorimotor areas, as measured using EEG, correlates with levels of agency and responsibility. We discuss the implications of these results for the neural basis of agency.