Thinking as the Control of Imagination: a Conceptual Framework for Goal-Directed Systems

Psychological Research 73 (4):559-577 (2009)
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Abstract

This paper offers a conceptual framework which (re)integrates goal-directed control, motivational processes, and executive functions, and suggests a developmentalpathway from situated action to higher level cognition. We first illustrate a basic computational (control-theoretic) model of goal-directed action that makes use of internalmodeling. We then show that by adding the problem of selection among multiple actionalternatives motivation enters the scene, and that the basic mechanisms of executivefunctions such as inhibition, the monitoring of progresses, and working memory, arerequired for this system to work. Further, we elaborate on the idea that the off-line re-enactment of anticipatory mechanisms used for action control gives rise to (embodied)mental simulations, and propose that thinking consists essentially in controlling mental simulations rather than directly controlling behavior and perceptions. We concludeby sketching an evolutionary perspective of this process, proposing that anticipationleveraged cognition, and by highlighting specific predictions of our model.

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