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Unformatted text preview: The 25th Bartlett Lecture To Act or Not to Act: Perspectives on the Representation of Actions Marc Jeannerod Institut des Sciences Cognitives, Bron, France In this review, a description is offered of the way actions are represented, how these repre- sentations are built, and how their content can be accessed by the agent and by other agents. Such a description will appear critical for understanding how an action is attributed to its proper origin, or, in other words, how a subject can make a conscious judgement about who the agent of that action is (an agency judgement). This question is central to the problem of self-consciousness: Action is one of the main channels used for communication between individuals, so that determining the agent of an action contributes to differentiating the self from others. Action is bound to the existence of a self. It is the means by which the self interacts with the external world. Any theory of action generation, therefore, will have to satisfy several, sometimes contradictory requirements, due to multiple modes of appearance and func- tioning of the self and to its different degrees of interaction with the milieu. First, such a theory must account for the fact that actions seem to arise as a consequence of triggering by the external environment or, conversely, as a consequence of an internal process. It must also account for the fact that many actions are carried out automatically and non- consciously, whereas others are made under conscious control, and, nally, it must take into consideration the fact that the same given action can occur in a private context, in mere ful lment of the agents needs or goals, or be part of a process involving commu- nication between several individuals. Can a single theory satisfy all these requirements? This paper aims at presenting an integrated view of action generation, including not only the overt appearance of an action, but also its covert aspects, the internal representation of its goal and of the means to achieve that goal. T he working hypothesis is that covert and overt aspects of an action are parts of a single representationexecution continuum, such that an overt action necessarily involves a covert counterpart, whereas a covert action does THE QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY, 1999, 52A (1), 129 Requests for reprints should be sent to Marc Jeannerod, Institut des Sciences Cognitives, 67 Boulevard Piuel, 69675 Bron, France. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org This work was sponsored by CNRS (UPR 9075). This paper is based on the 25th Bartlett lecture, delivered at the March 1997 EPS meeting at Oxford University. q 1999 The Experimental Psychology Society not necessarily involve an overt counterpart. A large part of the paper is devoted to solving the neural and the cognitive questions raised by this asymmetry....
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