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23-12-2014 | Review | Uitgave 1/2016

Psychological Research 1/2016

A review of ideomotor approaches to perception, cognition, action, and language: advancing a cultural recycling hypothesis

Psychological Research > Uitgave 1/2016
Arnaud Badets, Iring Koch, Andrea M. Philipp


The term “cultural recycling” derives from the neuronal recycling hypothesis, which suggests that representations of cultural inventions like written words, Arabic numbers, or tools can occupy brain areas dedicated to other functions. In the present selective review article, we propose a recycling hypothesis for the ideomotor mechanism. The ideomotor approach assumes that motor actions are controlled by the anticipation of the expected perceptual consequences that they aim to generate in the environment. Arguably, such action–perception mechanisms contribute to motor behaviour for human and non-human animals since millions of years. However, recent empirical studies suggest that the ideomotor mechanism can also contribute to word processing, number representation, and arithmetic. For instance, it has been shown that the anticipatory simulation of abstract semantics, like the numerical quantitative value of three items can prime processing of the associated Arabic number “3”. Arabic numbers, words, or tools represent cultural inventions, so that, from a theoretical perspective, we suggest an ideomotor recycling hypothesis for the interaction with such artefacts. In this view, the ideomotor mechanism spreads its influence to other functions beyond motor control, and is recycled to flexibly adapt different human behaviours towards dealing with more abstract concepts.

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