Psychological Research

, Volume 68, Issue 2–3, pp 176–188 | Cite as

A short history of ideo-motor action

  • Armin StockEmail author
  • Claudia Stock
Original Article


The ideo-motor theory, which is currently receiving heightened interest in cognitive psychology, looks back on a long history. Essentially two historical roots can be presented. A British one, initiated by Laycock (1845) and Carpenter (1852), which was developed in order to explain ideo-motor phenomena by means of cerebral reflex actions. A second and older root is the German one by Herbart (1816, 1825), Lotze (1852), and Harless (1861), which considered the ideo-motor principle a fundamental mechanism of all intentional human behaviour. Both roots converged in James’ (1890) Principles of Psychology before they fell into oblivion due to the dominance of behaviorism in the first half of the 20th century. The few empirical ideo-motor studies of the early 20th century are briefly described. Finally, similarities and differences in the history of the ideo-motor theory are delineated and a perspective is given covering research questions that could be examined in the future.


Movement Idea Effect Image Motor Element Bidirectional Connection Specific Action Effect 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We would like to thank Peter A. French and Wolfgang Prinz for their important and constructive comments on an earlier version of this paper. Additionally, Viola Rost and Christian Stöcker should be mentioned for their help in checking and improving the English. Last but not least, many thanks to Christian Stöcker especially for translating the old German quotations from Herbart, Lotze, and Harless.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of PsychologyUniversity of WürzburgGermany

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