Abstract

The human capacity for voluntary action is one of the major contributors to our success as a species. In addition to choosing actions themselves, we can also voluntarily choose behavioral codes or sets of rules that can guide future responses to events. Such rules have been proposed to be superordinate to actions in a cognitive hierarchy and mediated by distinct brain regions. We used event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging to study novel tasks of rule-based and voluntary action. We show that the voluntary selection of rules to govern future responses to events is associated with activation of similar regions of prefrontal and parietal cortex as the voluntary selection of an action itself. The results are discussed in terms of hierarchical models and the adaptive coding potential of prefrontal neurons and their contribution to a global workspace for nonautomatic tasks. These tasks include the choices we make about our behavior.

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