Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics

, Volume 81, Issue 7, pp 2304–2319 | Cite as

Control used and control felt: Two sides of the agency coin

  • Cory A. PottsEmail author
  • Richard A. Carlson
Time for Action: Reaching for a Better Understanding of the Dynamics of Cognition


Agency has been defined as the sense of ownership and control of our actions, and the metacognition of agency has now been examined in a number of studies. Here we examined the relations between task demands, the feeling of being in control, and the feeling of using control. As task demands increase, we might feel as if we use a lot of control while feeling little control over the task. It therefore seems possible that the amount of control one feels they have used and how much in control one feels are separable components of the metacognition of control. In two experiments, we manipulated task demands and assessed these two aspects of metacognition. The source of task demand differed for the two experiments. In Experiment 1, we manipulated task demands by varying the sizes of targets in an aiming task. As predicted, we found that reports of control used increased, while reports of control felt decreased, for more difficult aiming conditions. In Experiment 2, we found a similar relation using a different source of demand: response conflict. We connect these reports of control to previous investigations of task demand and agency, as well as prominent conceptions of cognitive control.


Agency Metacognition Control Aiming Conflict 



We thank Matti Vuorre, Stephen Agauas, and an anonymous reviewer for helpful suggestions on the manuscript. We also thank guest editors Joo-Hyun Song and Tim Welsh for organizing this special issue of Attention, Perception, and Psychophysics. Finally, we thank Sophie Paolizzi, Lisa Stevenson, Nancy Dennis, Bob Sainburg, and Brad Wyble for illuminating discussions.

Open Practices Statement

The data and supplemental material for these experiments are available via Open Science Framework at:

Neither of the experiments was preregistered.

Author contributions

Both authors contributed to designing the study, analyzing the data, and writing the manuscript. Both authors approved the final version of the manuscript.

Compliance with ethical standards

Declaration of Conflicting interests

The authors declared that they had no conflicts of interest with respect to their authorship and publication of this article.


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Copyright information

© The Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyPennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA

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