Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Intentionality


Intentions, including their temporal properties and semantic content, are receiving increased attention, and neuroscientific studies in humans vary with respect to the topography of intention-related neural responses. This may reflect the fact that the kind of intentions investigated in one study may not be exactly the same kind investigated in the other. Fine-grained intention taxonomies developed in the philosophy of mind may be useful to identify the neural correlates of well-defined types of intentions, as well as to disentangle them from other related mental states, such as mere urges to perform an action. Intention-related neural signals may be exploited by brain-machine interfaces (BMIs) that are currently being developed to restore speech and motor control in paralyzed patients. Such BMI devices record the brain activity of the agent, interpret (“decode”) the agent’s intended action, and send the corresponding execution command to an artificial effector system, e.g., a computer cursor or a robotic arm. In the present paper, we evaluate the potential of intention concepts from philosophy of mind to improve the performance and safety of BMIs based on higher-order, intention-related control signals. To this end, we address the distinction between future-, present-directed, and motor intentions, as well as the organization of intentions in time, specifically to what extent it is sequential or hierarchical. This has consequences as to whether these different types of intentions can be expected to occur simultaneously or not. We further illustrate how it may be useful or even necessary to distinguish types of intentions exposited in philosophy, including yes- vs. no-intentions and oblique vs. direct intentions, to accurately decode the agent’s intentions from neural signals in practical BMI applications.

Concepts: Psychology, Brain, Neuroscience, Philosophy of mind, Mind, Consciousness, Artificial intelligence, Intentionality


Philosophers and legal scholars have long theorized about how intentionality serves as a critical input for morality and culpability, but the emerging field of experimental philosophy has revealed a puzzling asymmetry. People judge actions leading to negative consequences as being more intentional than those leading to positive ones. The implications of this asymmetry remain unclear because there is no consensus regarding the underlying mechanism. Based on converging behavioral and neural evidence, we demonstrate that there is no single underlying mechanism. Instead, two distinct mechanisms together generate the asymmetry. Emotion drives ascriptions of intentionality for negative consequences, while the consideration of statistical norms leads to the denial of intentionality for positive consequences. We employ this novel two-mechanism model to illustrate that morality can paradoxically shape judgments of intentionality. This is consequential for mens rea in legal practice and arguments in moral philosophy pertaining to terror bombing, abortion, and euthanasia among others.

Concepts: Psychology, Sociology, Law, Intentionality, Philosophy, Ethics, Morality, Intention


Primate facial expressions are widely accepted as underpinned by reflexive emotional processes and not under voluntary control. In contrast, other modes of primate communication, especially gestures, are widely accepted as underpinned by intentional, goal-driven cognitive processes. One reason for this distinction is that production of primate gestures is often sensitive to the attentional state of the recipient, a phenomenon used as one of the key behavioural criteria for identifying intentionality in signal production. The reasoning is that modifying/producing a signal when a potential recipient is looking could demonstrate that the sender intends to communicate with them. Here, we show that the production of a primate facial expression can also be sensitive to the attention of the play partner. Using the orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) Facial Action Coding System (OrangFACS), we demonstrate that facial movements are more intense and more complex when recipient attention is directed towards the sender. Therefore, production of the playface is not an automated response to play (or simply a play behaviour itself) and is instead produced flexibly depending on the context. If sensitivity to attentional stance is a good indicator of intentionality, we must also conclude that the orangutan playface is intentionally produced. However, a number of alternative, lower level interpretations for flexible production of signals in response to the attention of another are discussed. As intentionality is a key feature of human language, claims of intentional communication in related primate species are powerful drivers in language evolution debates, and thus caution in identifying intentionality is important.

Concepts: Psychology, Cognition, Language, Intentionality, Hominidae, Intention, Orangutan, Bornean Orangutan


Consciousness is a multifaceted concept; its different aspects vary across species, vigilance states, or health conditions. While basal aspects of consciousness like perceptions and emotions are present in many states and species, higher-order aspects like reflective or volitional capabilities seem to be most pronounced in awake humans. Here we assess the experience of volition across different states of consciousness: 10 frequent lucid dreamers rated different aspects of volition according to the Volitional Components Questionnaire for phases of normal dreaming, lucid dreaming, and wakefulness. Overall, experienced volition was comparable for lucid dreaming and wakefulness, and rated significantly higher for both states compared to non-lucid dreaming. However, three subscales showed specific differences across states of consciousness: planning ability was most pronounced during wakefulness, intention enactment most pronounced during lucid dreaming, and self-determination most pronounced during both wakefulness and lucid dreaming. Our data confirm the multifaceted nature of consciousness: different higher-order aspects of consciousness are differentially expressed across different conscious states.

Concepts: Philosophy of mind, Mind, Consciousness, Intentionality, Qualia, Philosophy of perception, Quantum mind


Humans readily adopt an intentional stance to other people, comprehending their behavior as guided by unobservable mental states such as belief, desire, and intention. We used fMRI in healthy adults to test the hypothesis that this stance is primed by the default mode of human brain function present when the mind is at rest. We report three findings that support this hypothesis. First, brain regions activated by actively adopting an intentional rather than nonintentional stance to another person were anatomically similar to those demonstrating default responses to a fixation baseline condition. Second, moment-to-moment variation in default activity in the dorsomedial pFC was related to the ease with which participants applied an intentional-but not nonintentional-stance to a social stimulus presented moments later. Finally, individuals who showed stronger dorsomedial pFC activity at baseline in a separate task were generally more efficient when adopting the intentional stance and reported having greater social skills. These results identify a biological basis for the human tendency to adopt the intentional stance. More broadly, they suggest that the brain’s default response may have evolved, in part, as a response to life in a social world.

Concepts: Psychology, Brain, Natural selection, Biology, Human brain, Cerebral cortex, Mind, Intentionality


The past decade has seen a surge of research examining mind-wandering, but most of this research has not considered the potential importance of distinguishing between intentional and unintentional mind-wandering. However, a recent series of papers have demonstrated that mind-wandering reported in empirical investigations frequently occurs with and without intention, and, more crucially, that intentional and unintentional mind-wandering are dissociable. This emerging literature suggests that, to increase clarity in the literature, there is a need to reconsider the bulk of the mind-wandering literature with an eye toward deconvolving these two different cognitive experiences. In this review we highlight recent trends in investigations of the intentionality of mind-wandering, and we outline a novel theoretical framework regarding the mechanisms underlying intentional and unintentional mind-wandering.

Concepts: Scientific method, Science, Intentionality, Empiricism, Thought, Novel, Intention, Purpose


Offenders with psychopathy have often committed crimes violating social norms, which may suggest a biased moral reasoning in psychopathy. Yet, as findings on utilitarian decisions remain conflicting, the current study investigated different aspects of fairness considerations in offenders with psychopathy, offenders without psychopathy and healthy individuals (N = 18/14/18, respectively). Unfair offers in a modified Ultimatum Game (UG) were paired with different unselected alternatives, thereby establishing the context of a proposal, and made under opposing intentionality constraints (intentional vs. unintentional). As in previous studies, unfair offers were most often rejected when the alternative was fair and when the offer was made intentionally. Importantly, however, offenders with psychopathy demonstrated a similar rejection pattern to that of healthy individuals, i.e., taking the unselected alternative into account. In contrast, delinquents without psychopathy did not adjust their decision behavior to the alternatives to an offer, suggesting stronger impairments in social decision-making. Crucially, the mechanisms and processes underlying rejection decisions might differ, particularly with regard to cognitive vs. emotional competencies. While preserved cognitive perspective-taking could drive seemingly intact decision patterns in psychopathy, emotional empathy is likely to be compromised.

Concepts: Game theory, Psychology, Decision making, Critical thinking, Sociology, Intentionality, Empathy, Intention


Language’s intentional nature has been highlighted as a crucial feature distinguishing it from other communication systems. Specifically, language is often thought to depend on highly structured intentional action and mutual mindreading by a communicator and recipient. Whilst similar abilities in animals can shed light on the evolution of intentionality, they remain challenging to detect unambiguously. We revisit animal intentional communication and suggest that progress in identifying analogous capacities has been complicated by (i) the assumption that intentional (that is, voluntary) production of communicative acts requires mental-state attribution, and (ii) variation in approaches investigating communication across sensory modalities. To move forward, we argue that a framework fusing research across modalities and species is required. We structure intentional communication into a series of requirements, each of which can be operationalised, investigated empirically, and must be met for purposive, intentionally communicative acts to be demonstrated. Our unified approach helps elucidate the distribution of animal intentional communication and subsequently serves to clarify what is meant by attributions of intentional communication in animals and humans.

Concepts: Science, Intentionality, Empiricism, Thought, Empirical, Logic, Intention, Purpose


A decisive element of moral cognition is the detection of harm and its assessment as intentional or unintentional. Moral cognition engages brain networks supporting mentalizing, intentionality, empathic concern and evaluation. These networks rely on the amygdala as a critical hub, likely through frontotemporal connections indexing stimulus salience. We assessed inferences about perceived harm using a paradigm validated through functional magnetic resonance imaging, eye-tracking and electroencephalogram recordings. During the task, we measured local field potentials in three patients with depth electrodes (n = 115) placed in the amygdala and in several frontal, temporal, and parietal locations. Direct electrophysiological recordings demonstrate that intentional harm induces early activity in the amygdala (<200 ms), which-in turn-predicts intention attribution. The amygdala was the only site that systematically discriminated between critical conditions and predicted their classification of events as intentional. Moreover, connectivity analysis showed that intentional harm induced stronger frontotemporal information sharing at early stages. Results support the 'many roads' view of the amygdala and highlight its role in the rapid encoding of intention and salience-critical components of mentalizing and moral

Concepts: Psychology, Brain, Electrophysiology, Magnetic resonance imaging, Snake scales, Intentionality, Thought, Intention


A vital step in the evolution of language is likely to have been when signalers explicitly intended to direct recipients' attention to external objects with the use of referential signals. Although animal signals can direct the attention of others to external events, such as in monkey predator alarm calls, there is little evidence that this is the result of an intention to inform the recipient. Two recent studies, however, indicate that the production of chimpanzee quiet alarm calls, given to snakes, complies with some standard behavioral markers of intentional signaling, such as gaze alternation. But it is currently unknown whether the calls alone direct receivers' attention to the threat. To address this, we carried out a playback experiment with free-ranging chimpanzees in Budongo Forest, Uganda, using a within-subjects design. From a hidden speaker, we broadcast either quiet alarm ‘hoos’ (‘alert hoos’) or acoustically distinguishable hoos produced while resting (‘rest hoos’) and found a significant increase in search behavior after ‘alert’ compared with ‘rest’ hoos, with subjects monitoring either the call provider or the area near the call provider. In sum, chimpanzee ‘alert hoos’ represent a plausible case of an intentionally produced animal vocalization (other studies) that refers recipients to signalers and/or to an external event (this study).

Concepts: Psychology, Predation, Signal, Intentionality, Chimpanzee, Ape, Intention, Purpose