Date of Award

Summer 8-2023

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Computational and Data Sciences

First Advisor

Uri Maoz

Second Advisor

Aaron Schurger

Third Advisor

Ueli Rutishauser


Traditional experimental methodology in neuroscience involves comparing responses to different stimuli to make inferences about the human brain. However, human volition entails making decisions and acting in a manner that is underdetermined by the external environment. Investigations of the neuronal basis of volition have led to new controversies regarding the existence of free will, and offer potential directions for medical treatments of disorders such as addiction, akinetic mutism, and locked-in syndrome. However, because volition experiments leave aspects of responses “up to” participants, neuroscientists must utilize computational techniques such as modeling, simulation, and advanced analyses to progress our understanding of human volition. In this dissertation, I describe four studies in which I applied computational techniques to investigate the neurocognitive basis of human volition. In the first study, I developed a spiking neural network model of self-initiated action that explains movement-related signals at multiple spatiotemporal scales. In the second study, I investigated what kind of process underlies spontaneous action initiation and how that process relates to awareness of motor preparation through a combination of EEG analysis and computational modeling. In the third study, I showed that pupil dilations before spontaneous movements reflect the transition into awareness of motor intentions and are predictive of upcoming movements. Then, in a fourth study, I developed and validated a new paradigm for studying instructed and freely chosen intentions via reaction-time costs associated with changes of mind.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

Available for download on Saturday, August 10, 2024