Document Type


Publication Date



The readiness potential (RP) has been widely interpreted to indicate preparation for movement and is used to argue that our brains decide before we do. It thus has been a fulcrum for discussion about the neuroscience of free will.

Recent computational models provide an alternative framework for thinking about the significance of the RP, suggesting instead that the RP is a natural result of the operation of a stochastic accumulator process of decision-making, analyzed by time-locking to threshold-crossing events.

These models call for a reevaluation of: (i) the ontological standing of the RP as reflecting a real, causally efficacious signal in the brain; (ii) the meaningfulness of temporal comparisons between the ‘onset’ of the RP and the timing of other phenomena; (iii) the moment at which we, as experimenters, identify that a decision to act has been made; and (iv) the relevance of the RP for discussions of free will.


This article was originally published in Trends in Cognitive Sciences, volume 25, issue 7, in 2021.


The authors

Creative Commons License

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



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.