Seminar Series

Automatic activation and inhibition processes in low-level motor control

The ability to respond quickly and flexibly to rapid changes in the environment is crucial for the adaptive control of behaviour. It is therefore vital that even seemingly irrelevant information can be processed up to a level where it might potentially influence behaviour. We all know that such processing occurs, the evidence ranging from sophisticated experimental manipulations like the Eriksen flanker interference to more mundane nuisances like jumping at the sound of a mobile ringing during the lecture. Furthermore, we now know that even stimuli presented below the threshold of conscious awareness can influence our behaviour, affecting reaction times, error rates, and even subjectively 'free' response choices. This seems a scary finding: are we nothing but puppets manipulated by unperceived - and hence uncontrollable - external forces? I will review the evidence that effects of subliminal stimuli do indeed result from activation, inhibition, and disinhibition processes operating at a relatively 'low', automatic motor control level. These same processes, however, appear to be established only on the basis of 'high-level' intentional states, thus leaving little room for the notion of malicious subliminal manipulation.