Conscious Will and Apparent Mental Causation

How do people come to understand their actions as their own? Common sense tells us we know when actions are ours because we have caused them; we are intrinsically informed of what we do by our conscious will. But it turns out people can be mistaken about their own authorship, sometimes because they suffer from schizophrenia, dissociative disorder, or a psychogenic movement disorder--or because they encounter situations that mislead them about the origins of action. In hypnosis, facilitated communication, and coactions such as ouija-board spelling, for example, people can become profoundly mistaken about the sources of their actions. People can come to believe that they have performed actions they did not do, or that they were not the source of actions that were in fact their own. Wegner and Wheatley (1999) proposed a theory of apparent mental causation that accounts for these anomalies by suggesting that people will feel they are the source of action when they think about that action in advance of its occurrence, and alternative sources of the action are not known. This theory calls into question the common sense view that conscious will is the cause of action.

Wegner, D. M. (2002). The illusion of conscious will. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

  • Ansfield, M., & Wegner, D. M. (1996). The feeling of doing. In P. M. Gollwitzer & J. S. Bargh (Eds.), The psychology of action: Linking cognition and motivation to behavior (pp. 482-506). New York: Guilford.
  • Wegner, D. M., & Bargh, J. A. (1998). Control and automaticity in social life. In D. Gilbert, S. T. Fiske, & G. Lindzey (Eds.), Handbook of social psychology (4th ed, Vol. 1, pp. 446-496). New York: McGraw-Hill.
  • Wegner, D. M., & Wheatley, T. P. (1999). Apparent mental causation: Sources of the experience of will. American Psychologist, 54, 480-492.
  • Wegner, D. M., & Gilbert, D. T. (2000). Social psychology–the science of human experience. In H. Bless & J. P. Forgas (Eds.), Subjective experience in social cognition and behavior (pp. 1-9). Philadelphia, PA: Psychology Press.
  • Wegner, D. M. (2003). The mind's best trick: How we experience conscious will. Trends in Cognitive Science, 7, 65-69.
  • Wegner, D. M., Fuller, V. A., & Sparrow, B. (2003). Clever hands: Uncontrolled intelligence in facilitated communication. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85, 5-19 .
  • Wegner, D. M. (2003). The mind's self-portrait. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1001, 1-14.
  • Wegner, D. M., & Erskine, J. (2003). Voluntary involuntariness: Thought suppression and the regulation of the experience of will. Consciousness and Cognition, 12, 684-694.
  • Wegner, D. M., Sparrow, B., & Winerman, L. (2004). Vicarious agency: Experiencing control over the movements of others. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 86, 838-848.
  • Wegner, D. M., & Sparrow, B. (2004). Authorship processing. In M. Gazzaniga (Ed.), The Cognitive Neurosciences: 3rd Edition (pp. 1201-1209). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Wegner, D. M. (2004). Precis of The Illusion of Conscious Will. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 27, 649-692.
  • Wegner, D. M. (2005). Who is the controller of controlled processes?  In R. Hassin,  J. S. Uleman, & J.A. Bargh (Eds.), The new unconscious (pp. 19-36).  New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Preston, J., & Wegner, D. M. (2005). Ideal agency: On perceiving the self as an origin of action. In A. Tesser, J. Wood, & D. Stapel (Eds.), On building, defending, and regulating the self (pp. 103-125). Philadelphia, PA: Psychology Press.
  • Aarts, H., Custers, R., & Wegner, D. M. (2005). On the inference of personal authorship: Enhancing experienced agency by priming effect information. Consciousness and Cognition, 14, 439-458.
  • Pronin, E., Wegner, D. M., McCarthy, K., & Rodriguez, S. (2006). Everyday magical powers: The role of apparent mental causation in the overestimation of personal influence. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 91, 218-231.
  • Aarts, H., Wegner, D. M., & Dijksterhuis, A. (2006). On the feeling of doing: Dysphoria and the implicit modulation of authorship ascription. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 44, 1621-1627.
  • Wegner, D. M. (2007). Dangers of brain-o-vision: Review of S. Pockett, W. P. Banks, & S. Gallagher (Eds.), Does consciousness cause behavior? Science, 315, 1078.
  • Preston, J., & Wegner, D. M. (2007). The Eureka error: Inadvertent plagiarism by misattribution of effort. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92, 575-584.
  • Wegner, D. M., & Sparrow, B. (2007). The puzzle of coaction. In D. Ross, D. Spurrett, H. Kincaid, & L. Stephens (Eds.), Distributed cognition and the will (pp. 17-38). Cambridge, MA : MIT Press.
  • Gray, K., & Wegner, D. M. (2007). Apparent mental causation. In R. F. Baumeister & K. D. Vohs (Eds.), Encyclopedia of social psychology (pp. 43-45). Thousand Oaks, CA : Sage.
  • Wegner, D. M. (2008). Self is magic. In J. Baer, J. C. Kaufman, & R. F. Baumeister (Eds.), Are we free? Psychology and free will (pp. 226-247). New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Dijksterhuis, A., Preston, J., Wegner, D. M., & Aarts, H. (2008). Effects of subliminal priming of self and God on self-attribution of authorship for events. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 44, 2-9.
  • Preston , J., & Wegner, D. M. (2009). Elbow grease: The experience of effort in action. In E. Morsella, J. A. Bargh, & P. M. Gollwitzer (Eds.), Oxford handbook of human action (pp. 469-486) . New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Moore, J. W., Wegner, D. M., & Haggard, P. (2009). Modulating the sense of agency with external cues. Consciousness and Cognition, 18, 1056-1064
  • Ebert, J. P., & Wegner, D. M. (2010). Time warp: Authorship shapes the perceived diming of actions and events. Consciousness and Cognition, 19, 481-489.
  • Morewedge, C. K., Gray, K., & Wegner, D. M. (2010). Perish the forethought: Premeditation engenders misperceptions of personal control. In R. Hassin, K. Ochsner, & Y. Trope (Eds.), Self-control in society, mind, and brain (pp. 260-278). New York : Oxford University Press
  • Ebert, J. P., & Wegner, D. M. (2011). Mistaking randomness for free will. Consciousness and Cognition, 20, 965-971.
  • Preston, J. L., Ritter, R. S., & Wegner, D. M. (2011).  Action embellishment: An intention bias in the perception of success. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 101, 233-244.
  • Ebert, J. P., & Wegner, D. M. (2011). Bending time to one’s will. In W. P. Sinnott-Armstrong & L. Nadel (Eds). Conscious will and responsibility: A tribute to Benjamin Libet (pp. 134-145). New York: Oxford University Press.

Back