Intention-based and stimulus-based mechanisms in action selection

Exp Brain Res. 2005 Apr;162(3):346-56. doi: 10.1007/s00221-004-2183-8. Epub 2004 Dec 15.


Human actions can be classified as being either more stimulus-based or more intention-based. According to the ideomotor framework of action control, intention-based actions primarily refer to anticipated action effects (in other words response-stimulus [R-S] bindings), whereas stimulus-based actions are commonly assumed to be more strongly determined by stimulus-response [S-R] bindings. We explored differences in the functional signatures of both modes of action control in a temporal bisection task. Participants either performed a choice response by pressing one out of two keys in response to a preceding stimulus (stimulus-based action), or pressed one out of two keys to produce the next stimulus (intention-based action). In line with the ideomotor framework, we found intention-based actions to be shifted in time towards their anticipated effects (the next stimulus), whereas stimulus-based actions were shifted towards their preceding stimulus. Event-related potentials (ERPs) in the EEG revealed marked differences in action preparation for the two tasks. The data as a whole provide converging evidence for functional differences in the selection of motor actions as a function of their triggering conditions, and support the notion of two different modes of action selection, one being exogenous or mainly stimulus-driven, the other being endogenous or mainly intention-driven.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Decision Making / physiology*
  • Electroencephalography
  • Event-Related Potentials, P300 / physiology
  • Evoked Potentials / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Models, Neurological
  • Movement / physiology*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Volition / physiology*