Intentions, Selection, and Agency

Intentions, Selection and Agency (ISA)

In this project, we investigate how humans remember what they have decided to do. Due to their vibrant and busy lives, humans make multiple decisions regarding future actions on a regular basis. However, many of those decisions need to be delayed for execution at a later point in time. Consequently, we argue that there is a multitude of intentions represented in long-term memory at any given moment in time. When the time is right, the cognitive system has to select and retrieve, out of this multitude of stored intentions, the right intention for execution. This ability is central for human agency. Without it, humans would lose their ability for long-term planning, and their psychological and practical life would lose its structure and stability. 

While other proposed theories of the formation of intentions account only for the production and implementation of one intention at a time, our main focus is the selection process among many possible options behind the choice to act in a particular way. Our fundamental idea is that selecting intentions from long-term memory is a computational selection problem similar to selection problems in visual attention. By adopting C. Bundesen’s (1990) Theory of Visual Attention (TVA; Bundesen, Habekost, & Kyllingsbæk, 2011), and G. D. Logan and R. D. Gordon’s (2001) Executive Control of Visual Attention Theory (ECTVA), we are developing a Computational Theory of Intention Selection (CTIS) of how standing intentions are selected from long-term memory, transformed into occurrent intentions in working memory, and then into executive intentions leading to action. 

The ISA project is funded by the Danish Council for Independent Research (DFF), and consists of Søren Kyllingsbæk and Franziska Oren from the Department of Psychology; Thor Grünbaum and Filippos Stamatiou from the Department of Communication; as well as several Bachelor’s and Master’s students in Philosophy and Psychology from the University of Copenhagen.
Moreover, the project is part of the Cognition, Intention and Action (CoInAct) research group, which is an interdisciplinary research group, performing experimental and theoretical research within cognitive neuroscience, cognitive psychology, and philosophy of mind and action. 

As a special activity, the ISA project has organized workshops twice a year with invitees studying human agency, decision-making, prospective memory, goal pursuit, executive control, and task switching – to name just a few. Please find more information on our past workshops here.


Presentation in the media

•          Hvad gør vi, når et hukommelsessvigt kræver menneskeliv?, October 2019.

•          Er det tilfældigt, hvad vi husker og glemmer?, April 2018.

•          Research project “Intentions, Selection and Agency” granted 5.6 million DKK, July 2016.