Humans have remarkable abilities for goal-directed action. We set goals, plan ahead and act accordingly. Sometimes however, habits and impulses can be powerful distractors and additional efforts are required to ensure successful goal pursuit. It has been suggested that our cognitive system solves this problem by means of dedicated control mechanisms that guide and supervise goal-directed actions.
We seek to understand these control mechanisms and how they operate. Although people rely on their abilities to control their actions every day, fundamental knowledge about underlying psychological mechanisms is still limited. Such knowledge is important not only for cognitive psychologists, but also for researchers and practitioners in neuroscience, philosophy and clinical sciences.
Perhaps the importance of control becomes most obvious when it fails. We experience this in our everyday life, e.g., when pressing the wrong key on our mobile phone. Chronic control deficits occur in many psychiatric disorders. In the long run, a better understanding of cognitive control may help to prevent many mundane action slips, e.g., through research-informed development of adequate user-centred interface designs, and may also facilitate a more specific diagnosis and treatment of enduring control deficits in clinically affected people.
Because action control is a multifaceted construct, we adopt an integrative perspective that links findings from perception, attention, memory and decision-making. Furthermore, because many of our actions are highly contextualised, we investigate also how social, motivational and emotional contexts affect action control. We address these questions through carefully controlled experiments, mostly studying behavioural data (e.g., reaction time paradigms, psychophysics, decision making tasks, recording of continuous movement trajectories and eye tracking) in combination with appropriate physiological measures (e.g., EEG, EMG, ECG, SCR).
Find out more:
- The psychology of getting started – How are mental goals translated into overt behaviour?
- When control fails – How to adapt actions and attention in case of difficulties?
Action Control Lab: