The Cognitive Control Lab

Dr. Ben Parris

Welcome to The Cognitive Control Lab

The research in this lab aims to investigate the cognitive and neural mechanisms of intended and unintended thoughts and actions. More specifically, we focus on the formation, content and integrity of the mental representations of goals/intentions and their neural loci, and how variations in these factors affect the selection and implementation of intended actions. Furthermore, we investigate the role of factors such as context, reward and personality in determining the efficacy of intention and the control of attention.

The philosopher and psychologist William James provided a useful way of thinking about intended, goal-oriented action in his Principles of Psychology (1890).

William James Portrait

James stated that intended actions require that two conditions be met:

  1. There must be an idea, or representation, of what is being willed, and;
  2. Any conflicting ideas must be absent or removed.

Given these conditions, the failure to produce a voluntary action could be the result of: 1) an insufficiently-specified or inappropriately-specified representation of what is being intended; 2) an inability to maintain a sufficiently-specified representation over time; 3) a failure to translate a sufficiently-specified representation into the intended action despite having necessary motor (bodily) control to do so; in other words, a lapse of, or failure to act on, intention (a phenomenon known as goal neglect); 4) a failure to remove the influence of conflicting stimuli present in the environment.

The research in this lab aims to investigate the predominance of these failures in the neurotypical population, and in non-neurotypical populations (e.g. in those with inattention, in hypnotically suggestible individuals), and to identify methods for averting failures in these populations.