The autonomic nervous system differentiates between levels of motor intent and end effector

Jihye Ryu, Elizabeth Torres

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


While attempting to bridge motor control and cognitive science, the nascent field of embodied cognition has primarily addressed intended, goal-oriented actions. Less explored, however, have been unintended motions. Such movements tend to occur largely beneath awareness, while contributing to the spontaneous control of redundant degrees of freedom across the body in motion. We posit that the consequences of such unintended actions implicitly contribute to our autonomous sense of action ownership and agency. We question whether biorhythmic activities from these motions are separable from those which intentionally occur. Here we find that fluctuations in the biorhythmic activities of the nervous systems can unambiguously differentiate across levels of intent. More important yet, this differentiation is remarkable when we examine the fluctuations in biorhythmic activity from the autonomic nervous systems. We find that when the action is intended, the heart signal leads the body kinematics signals; but when the action segment spontaneously occurs without instructions, the heart signal lags the bodily kinematics signals. We conclude that the autonomic nervous system can differentiate levels of intent. Our results are discussed while considering their potential translational value.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number76
Pages (from-to)1-26
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of Personalized Medicine
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)


  • Action ownership
  • Agency
  • Embodied cognition
  • Graph theory
  • Motor control
  • Network analysis
  • Precision medicine
  • Voluntary motion


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