Personal Autonomy

Personal autonomy, i.e. the ability to make free, uncoerced decisions about how and when to achieve one’s goals, is a key component of democratic constitutions. Supporting and maintaining autonomy is a challenge for modern societies, which today are characterized by growing pressure on people to adapt their behavior to the vastly increasing shortage of energy, air and earth pollution, health care costs, interactions with complex technological artifacts such as robots and artificial intelligence algorithms and multicultural diversity of social context. In humans, the complex phenomenon of autonomy crucially depends on “sense of agency” (SoA), i.e. the implicit experience of oneself being the actor of one’s own behavior. SoA is key to goal achievement and wellbeing, endows people with the ability to actively take part in society (‘citizen empowerment’), and constitutes the basis for understanding of moral behavior. We investigate how restrictions in personal autonomy affect the neurobiological and cognitive processes of SoA, and how SoA is related to the way people perceive themselves and the social world. We not only address how SoA evolves in health, but also in mental pathologies, such as depression and schizophrenia.