Sensorimotor intentionality: understanding cognition as embodied agent action

Jonathan Delafield-Butt, Nivedita Gangopadhyay

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


This paper addresses the developmental origins of intentionality from an embodied perspective, taking into account the prospective nature of animal motor control. This efficient prospective control, evident in human sensorimotor activity from before birth, reveals an adaptive intentionality of a primary, pre-reflective, and non-conceptual nature that we identify as 'sensorimotor intentionality‘. We propose a structural continuity exists between the emergence of this earliest form of purposive movement and the basic structure of intentional mental states that, as Brentano reminds us, ‗includes something as object within itself‘. We present a hierarchical model of intentionality that structures cognition and develops from its first expression in the simple and discrete movements of the foetus to the more complex motor project of adults. This is a development from an 'intention in action‘ to 'an intention to act‘ and reflects a shift from proximal to distal intentions reflected in a comparable shift from midbrain activity to cortically-mediated activity. We claim continuity from early, simple actions to later, complex projects of actions confirms the existence of an ontogenetically primary form of intentionality in animal sensorimotor control. Its neural basis and implications for understanding cognition will be discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2012
EventBPS 2012 Developmental Section Annual Conference 2012 - Glasgow, United Kingdom
Duration: 5 Sep 20127 Sep 2012


ConferenceBPS 2012 Developmental Section Annual Conference 2012
CountryUnited Kingdom


  • sensorimotor intentionality
  • understanding cognition
  • embodied agent action

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