Motor Representations Ground the Directedness of Actions to Goals
How do intentions ground the directedness of actions to outcomes? On any standard view, an intention represents an outcome, causes an action, and does so in a way that would normally facilitate the outcome’s occurrence. Similarly, some motor representations represent action outcomes, play a role in generating actions, and do this in a way that normally facilitates the occurrence of the outcomes represented. Like intentions, motor representations ground the directedness of actions to outcomes which are thereby goals of the actions.
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In Goal-Directed and Habitual Processes, we encountered a basic question that any theory of action must to answer:
What is the relation between an instrumental action and the outcome or outcomes to which it is directed?
The aim of this section is to introduce an argument for the claim that motor representations can ground the relation between an instrumental action and the outcome(s) to which it is directed.
In Motor Representation, we saw evidence that motor processes involve representations of action outcomes. It is only a tiny step to the further conclusion that such representations ground instrumental actions.
How do intentions ground the directedness of actions? On any standard view, an intention represents an outcome, causes an action, and does so in a way that would normally facilitate the outcome's occurrence. Similarly, motor representations of outcomes represent action outcomes, play a role in generating actions, and do this in a way that normally facilitates the occurrence of the outcomes represented.
To say that motor representations do all this is one way of making precise the metaphor involved in saying that instrumental actions are directed to outcomes. Moreover, there is a clear resemblance between the natural way of understanding intentions as grounding outcome-directedness and the way in which motor representations ground outcome-directedness (as Pacherie, 2008, pp. 189-90 has also argued).
The outcomes motor representations can represent are probably limited in various ways. After all, motor processes are concerned with the present and immediate future and, unlike intentions, do not seem to be concerned with arbitrary future times; nor with outcomes to be brought about at some as-yet unspecified time. They may also be limited to very small scale actions such as grasping a mug, eating a biscuit or getting into bed.
For this reason, there are many instrumental action where it would be implausible to suggest that their directedness is grounded in motor representation. Cooking carbonera sauce on the weekend or visiting Milan next summer, for example.
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You may encounter variations on this definition of instrumental in the literature. For instance, Dickinson (2016, p. 177) characterises instrumental actions differently: in place of the teleological ‘in order to bring about an outcome’, he stipulates that an instrumental action is one that is ‘controlled by the contingency between’ the action and an outcome. And de Wit & Dickinson (2009, p. 464) stipulate that ‘instrumental actions are learned’.