Why volition is a foundation issue for psychology

Consciousness and Cognition 2 (4):281-309 (1993)
Abstract
Since the advent of behaviorism the question of volition or "will" has been largely neglected. We consider evidence indicating that two identical behaviors may be quite distinct with respect to volition: For instance, with practice the details of predictable actions become less and less voluntary, even if the behavior itself does not visibly change. Likewise, people can voluntarily imitate involuntary slips they have just made. Such examples suggest that the concept of volition applies not to visible behavior per se, but to the control system that guides behavior. Involuntary events include both automatisms and counter voluntary actions such as slips . An adequate theory of voluntary control must account for the entire set of such pairs of voluntary/involuntary contrasts. The problem of volition highlights core psychological issues. Voluntary acts are consistent with one′s current dominant goals. Volition and consciousness are intimately related. Consciousness of an action seems to recruit unconscious resources that help in planning, executing, and monitoring a voluntary act. Conversely, losing conscious access to an action seems to produce a loss of voluntary control. However, voluntary actions are not wholly conscious. It appears that we only need conscious access to nonroutine choice-points in the flow of control; routine aspects are handled unconsciously. The goals that guide voluntary acts often encounter conflict, either from reality or from other goals, and emotions are widely believed to result from appraisals of such conflicts . Finally, there is a close connection between countervoluntary slips and the symptoms of clinical pathology, which involve a loss of voluntary control over speech, action, feeling, imagery, or thought. A modern version of William James′ ideomotor theory is proposed, based on Global Workspace theory . The theory shows how a conscious goal image could activate unconscious plans and automatisms that shape a voluntary act. Conscious feedback from the act serves to communicate success or failure to many unconscious routines, which may then adapt cooperatively to shape future actions
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