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Introduction and Overview


            “Sow a thought, and you reap an action;  sow an act, and you reap a habit;
            sow a habit, and you reap a character;   sow a character, and you reap a
   1        destiny."  1



                    Human behavior consists of more than reflexes. People do not merely respond to
            their environment. Most of the time, they behave in a purposeful manner, with a particular
            goal in mind. They stretch their arm to pick up a glass, buy groceries to make dinner later
            tonight, or work hard to obtain a Ph.D. These examples have in common that behavior is di-
            rected at  producing a particular state or event that can often not be directly perceived, but
            at that moment of action only exists in people’s minds. Goal-directed behavior, then, seems
            to depend mainly on people’s cognitive abilities, which allow them to act on future events
            they envision in the mind’s eye.

                    Apart from the ability to conjure up visions of events that are not present in the
            here and now (Gilbert & Wilson, 2007), there is another ingredient that is a prerequisite for
            goal-directed behavior: To realize a particular goal, one must be able to select the proper
            actions that produce the goal-state. People relax and flex specific muscles to make their arm
            grab a glass, take a particular route to the nearby grocery shop, buy particular ingredients
            based on the dinner recipe tonight, and write all the manuscripts based on the research
            question to finish one’s Ph.D. Thus, to engage in goal-pursuit, people must somehow be able
            to select the actions that produce the envisioned goal state.

                    The current dissertation aims to investigate how people formulate the cognitive
            structures that enable them to behave in such a goal-directed way, and how outcomes are
            produced based on such cognitive structure. Specifically, it examines the support for the
            ideomotor (IM) theory, which provides an elegant mechanistic account for how these cogni-
            tive structures arise and produce behavior. In the following, the thesis first explains how this
            mechanistic account followed from theorizing on goal-directed behavior. Then, it critically
            examines the existing evidence supporting this mechanistic account and points out several
            shortcomings. Subsequently, three empirical chapters are presented to explore how people
            acquire cognitive representations about the relations between actions and their outcomes
            and how those representations affect behavior later.

            Goal-directed behavior

                    Theories on goal-directed behavior see goal pursuit as a mostly deliberate affair.
            Most notably, according to Gollwitzer’s action phases model (Gollwitzer, 1990), this endeav-
            or starts out as a decision-making process, where one has to decide which goals to select for
            pursuit based on (amongst others) their desirability. Once a goal is set, one has to select the
            proper means to implement goal-directed action based on which actions are effective and
            efficient in producing the goal-state. Therefore, the implementation of goal-directed behav-
            ior can be seen as a multiple-layer decision-making process. People select goals and means
            based on expectancy (e.g., will a means produce the goal state) and value (how desirable is
            the goal).

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