Adaptive control of human action: the role of outcome representations and reward signals

Front Psychol. 2013 Sep 9:4:602. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00602. eCollection 2013.


The present paper aims to advance the understanding of the control of human behavior by integrating two lines of literature that so far have led separate lives. First, one line of literature is concerned with the ideomotor principle of human behavior, according to which actions are represented in terms of their outcomes. The second line of literature mainly considers the role of reward signals in adaptive control. Here, we offer a combined perspective on how outcome representations and reward signals work together to modulate adaptive control processes. We propose that reward signals signify the value of outcome representations and facilitate the recruitment of control resources in situations where behavior needs to be maintained or adapted to attain the represented outcome. We discuss recent research demonstrating how adaptive control of goal-directed behavior may emerge when outcome representations are co-activated with positive reward signals.

Keywords: adaptive control; goal-directed action; motivation; outcome representation; reward signal.