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Keywords:

  • fMRI;
  • free choice;
  • internal generation;
  • perceptual choice;
  • action selection;
  • decision making;
  • prefrontal cortex;
  • pre-SMA;
  • superior parietal lobule

Abstract

Previous brain imaging studies identified the neural networks underlying free choice of self-initiated actions. In contrast, the neural mechanisms underlying free choice of external objects remain to be elucidated. In this event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging study, participants had to choose one out of two different single-colored target squares presented at two of three possible locations. In 50% of the trials the choice was either free or specified, which was indicated by a preceding cue. In order to disentangle processes associated with object choice from those related to motor responses, object-response mapping was orthogonally varied. Processes related to the freedom of choice were isolated by means of an adaptive algorithm: based on the subjects individual choices in the free trials, specified trials were continuously generated in a way that matched the free trials in all aspects but the freedom to choose the object. Comparing free and specified trials revealed enhanced neural activity of a bilateral symmetrical network including the dorsolateral prefrontal, medial frontal, and medial parietal cortex. This network overlaps with that shown previously to be associated with free motor selection. It includes the pre-supplementary motor area (pre-SMA), suggesting that this area is rather associated with a supramodal function of initiating choice than with a specific motor function. Neural activity specifically associated with the freedom to choose an object was found bilaterally in the lateral superior parietal cortex. A psychophysiological interaction (PPI) analysis showed increased functional connectivity of this area with bilateral areas of the extrastriate visual cortex. Hum Brain Mapp, 2012. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.