Cognition Workshop 05/15/24: John Veillette

Title: An integrative framework for evaluating theories of motor awareness

John Veillette, doctoral student in the Nusbaum Lab, Department of Psychology, University of Chicago

Abstract: Our bodies are the interface through which we execute all behaviors, and the conscious experience of volitionally controlling our bodies constitutes one of the most basic forms of self-awareness. While an empirically-grounded neurocognitive account of this sense of agency would have broad medical (e.g. for psychiatric and motor disorders), legal (e.g. in the interpretation of mens rea) and ethical implications (e.g. autonomy in emerging interface technologies and prosthetics), theories of motor awareness have proven inherently difficult to test. In addition to inheriting all the falsifiability issues recently discussed in the broader consciousness literature, theories of motor awareness must depend on additional auxiliary assumptions from competing accounts of motor control which may themselves have ambiguous neuroanatomical specifications. We propose a framework that integrates recent methodological advances in physical and biomechanical simulation, robotics, and human-computer interaction to jointly elicit falsifiable predictions from a broad class of (pairs of) models of motor awareness and control. We present a proof-of-concept MRI experiment in which we use this general approach to test a previously intractable hypothesis, while also illustrating the remaining methodological obstacles to applying our proposed framework in practice. This discussion motivates our ongoing work to eliminate such barriers with the development of novel statistical methods, facilitating our ultimate aim of automatically benchmarking hundreds of models of motor control and awareness, all specified with biomechanical and neuroanatomical precision at the level of individual subjects.

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