The Think-Tank seminar series

Banishing the control homunculi in studies of action control and behaviour change


Professor Frederick Verbruggen, Centre for Cognitive Control and Associative Learning (CCAL), University of Exeter

Date and time

12:00 -13:00, 4 October 2013


Translating basic research on human executive control into behavioural change is a holy grail for psychologists and neuroscientists. But even though executive control receives a great deal of attention across many disciplines, major advances are hampered by reliance on specialised black-box homunculi that regulate behaviour. In this presentation, I will focus on the mechanistic basis for the executive control of actions. I propose a four-step account of action control that includes the processes of attentional selection, action selection, action execution, and outcome monitoring. As part of this framework I propose that people use abstract rule-like representations to bias and regulate selection and execution, and I will consider how executive control of actions becomes automatised with practice. Finally, I will discuss how the application of this framework in clinical domains can increase our understanding of control deficits, providing a framework for the development of ‘behavioural change’ interventions.