Abstract

Sensory suppression refers to the phenomenon that sensory input generated by our own actions, such as moving a finger to press a button to hear a tone, elicits smaller neural responses than sensory input generated by external agents. This observation is usually explained via the internal forward model in which an efference copy of the motor command is used to compute a corollary discharge, which acts to suppress sensory input. However, because moving a finger to press a button is accompanied by neural processes involved in preparing and performing the action, it is unclear whether sensory suppression is the result of movement planning, movement execution, or both. To investigate this, in two experiments, we compared event-related potentials to self-generated tones that were produced by voluntary, semivoluntary, or involuntary button-presses, with externally generated tones that were produced by a computer. In Experiment 1, the semivoluntary and involuntary button-presses were initiated by the participant or experimenter, respectively, by electrically stimulating the median nerve in the participant's forearm, and in Experiment 2, by applying manual force to the participant's finger. We found that tones produced by voluntary button-presses elicited a smaller N1 component of the event-related potential than externally generated tones. This is known as N1-suppression. However, tones produced by semivoluntary and involuntary button-presses did not yield significant N1-suppression. We also found that the magnitude of N1-suppression linearly decreased across the voluntary, semivoluntary, and involuntary conditions. These results suggest that movement planning is a necessary condition for producing sensory suppression. We conclude that the most parsimonious account of sensory suppression is the internal forward model.

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Author notes

These authors contributed equally.