The influence of action–outcome contingency on motivation from control

Penton, Tegan; Wang, Xingquan; Coll, Michel-Pierre; Catmur, Caroline and Bird, Geoffrey. 2018. The influence of action–outcome contingency on motivation from control. Experimental Brain Research, 236(12), pp. 3239-3249. ISSN 0014-4819 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

The sense of agency is defined as one’s sense of control over one’s actions and their consequences. A recent theory, the control-based response selection framework (Karsh and Eitam, Motivation from control: a response selection framework. The sense of agency, Oxford University Press, New York, 2015a), suggests that actions associated with a high sense of agency are intrinsically rewarding and thus motivate response selection. Previous studies support this theory by demonstrating that factors impacting on sense of agency (e.g. probability of an outcome following an action) also motivate selection of actions. Here we report a novel test of the control-based response selection framework in the domain of action–outcome contingency. The contingency between actions and their outcome has previously been demonstrated to impact the sense of agency, but its impact on the motivation to perform actions has not yet been examined. Participants were asked to press one of four buttons as randomly as possible. Each of the buttons was assigned a different probability of causing an outcome when pressed. Additionally, a contingency manipulation was employed where the probability of an outcome occurring in the absence of a button press was also varied in blocks throughout the experiment. Results demonstrated a significant influence of contingency on response speed, and a significant effect of probability on response selection, consistent with predictions from the control-based response selection framework. Furthermore, some evidence was observed for a positive correlation between influence of contingency and autistic traits, with individuals with higher autistic traits showing a greater influence of contingency on reaction times. The current findings support the idea that actions associated with an increased sense of agency are intrinsically rewarding, and identify how individual differences may impact on this process.

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Tegan Penton is supported by a doctoral studentship from the Medical Research Council (MR/M50175X/1). Geoff Bird is supported by the Baily Thomas Charitable Trust. MP Coll is funded by a postdoctoral fellowship from the Fonds de recherche du Québec—Santé.

According to UK research councils' Common Principles on Data Policy, all data supporting this study will be available at:


Contingency, Motivation, Sense of agency, Individual differences

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1 September 2018Accepted
14 September 2018Published Online
December 2018Published

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21 Jul 2022 15:35

Last Modified:

21 Jul 2022 15:35

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Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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