Cognitive Psychology

This programme aims at integrating insights on perception and action planning, working memory, and executive functions into a comprehensive theory of action control.

Action Control

Human behavior is intentional, driven by internal needs and goals, and adaptively tailored to environmental circumstances -- facts that are hardly reflected in the classical view of behavior as representing the end product of a stimulus-triggered chain of increasingly elaborate information-processing stages. Alternatively, our research programme aims at conceptualizing and investigating cognitive processes with respect to their ultimate function: the control of voluntary action. That is, we focus at how manual, verbal, and oculomotor actions are organized and controlled by perceptual processes, memory retrieval and maintenance processes, attentional and intentional selection processes and sets, and how planning and performing actions works back on perception, cognition, and memory.  

In particular, we aim at integrating insights on perception and action planning, working memory, and executive functions into a comprehensive theory of action control. Apart from additional, individual projects, expertise and efforts are at present concentrated on the following four issues.

1. Attention and Intention

In contrast to traditional views of attention as representing or resolving capacity limitations in human information processing, we see and investigate attention as a function that subserves, and sometimes even takes over action control by selecting the information that is most useful for carrying out the intended action (selection-for-action). We also study, in healthy people and patients, by using behavioral experiments, brain-imaging techniques, and applied set-ups how object and event information is integrated and how integration mechanisms interact with action planning.

2. Task Management and Coordination

In everyday life actions are carried out in the context of, or even concurrently with other actions, often embedded in hierarchical action plans. Managing action plans, coordinating, and switching between multiple tasks puts high demands on executive cognitive functions, which we study in children, adults, elderly people.

3. Modes of Action Control

Actions are carried out intentionally almost by definition, but not all processes underlying and realizing them are consciously accessible or under complete intentional control. We are interested in how intentionally controlled and more automatic processes interact, what the contributions of cognitive and emotional processes are, how explicit and implicit processing modes can be characterized, and what role consciousness plays in and for action control.

4. Failures of Action Control

Errors in human action are important -- in practice, as they can have dramatic consequences, as well as in theory, because they are telling with respect to how action control works. We investigate both cognitive and situational factors responsible for action failures, and develop programs and strategies to help preventing such failures in the future.

More information can be found at the section Cognitive Psychology

Last Modified: 05-02-2008