Current experimental paradigms for studying free will and volitional behavior fail to address natural volitional behavior, as the paradigms they use do not address self-initiation and motivation conjointly. Here we propose to integrate these aspects, by using motivating and game-like paradigms, in order to study self-initiation of deliberate behavior (SIDB) in naturalistic situations, and explore how SIDB can be enhanced by experience. In the first part of our project we plan to perform basic research to investigate whether and how motivational factors can drive/diminish SIDB, using motivating paradigms which enable parameterization of the involved factors. Through behavioral, fMRI and EEG experiments we will study the functional relationship between these factors and SIDB, and the relation between the volition and motivation brain networks. Based on this research and on exploration of existing game formats, we will develop a computer-game training that aims to gradually enhance SIDB by modulation of the sensitivity to one of the factors that influences SIDB. The effect of this training on behavior and neural mechanisms will be tested. Our results will be published in scientific journals and conferences, and will be incorporated into an academic course. A simplified web-based version of our paradigms will be developed for public use. This project will provide insights into SIDB phenomenology and its driving forces, and will unravel the relation between motivation and volition neural mechanisms. Furthermore, we hope that this first attempt to study natural SIDB and its plasticity will form the scientific foundation for training protocols for SIDB enhancement. Answering the question whether volitional behavior traits can be enhanced by experience, may have dramatic philosophical, as well as pragmatic implications. Finally, we hope that this project will foster additional research towards development of games for enhancement of positive traits.
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