Neural precursors of decisions that matter—an ERP study of deliberate and arbitrary choice

Uri Maoz*, Gideon Yaffe, Christof Koch, Liad Mudrik

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The readiness potential (RP)—a key ERP correlate of upcoming action—is known to precede subjects’ reports of their decision to move. Some view this as evidence against a causal role for consciousness in human decision-making and thus against free-will. But previous work focused on arbitrary decisions—purposeless, unreasoned, and without consequences. It remains unknown to what degree the RP generalizes to deliberate, more ecological decisions. We directly compared deliberate and arbitrary decision-making during a $1000-donation task to non-profit organizations. While we found the expected RPs for arbitrary decisions, they were strikingly absent for deliberate ones. Our results and drift-diffusion model are congruent with the RP representing accumulation of noisy, random fluctuations that drive arbitrary—but not deliberate—decisions. They further point to different neural mechanisms underlying deliberate and arbitrary decisions, challenging the generalizability of studies that argue for no causal role for consciousness in decision-making to real-life decisions. Editorial note: This article has been through an editorial process in which the authors decide how to respond to the issues raised during peer review. The Reviewing Editor’s assessment is that all the issues have been addressed (see decision letter).

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere39787
StatePublished - Oct 2019


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