Intention & Action

The Intention & Action group is interested in understanding the cerebral mechanisms supporting the integration of rules and perceptual processes into the sensorimotor machinery.

We study how humans select and plan goal-directed movements designed to change the physical environment (instrumental actions). We also study how we select actions designed to induce desired mental states in other agents (communicative actions). Our work tests the hypothesis that both types of actions are organized and selected according to perceptual and conceptual knowledge, with abstract knowledge influencing sensorimotor processes at the earliest stages of movement planning. Empirically, we address these issues by studying both healthy and pathological human brains, using non-invasive neurophysiological techniques (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Magneto-Encephalography, Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation).

Highlights from our recent work on instrumental actions include the finding that planning and perceiving actions rely on a common predictive mechanism focused on the goal state of the action, and grounded on the current physical configuration of the body. We have also shown that patients with Parkinson’s Disease, as well as healthy subjects with a genetic predisposition to develop that disorder, compensate for alterations in this grounding mechanism by using perceptual brain regions to support motor function.

In the domain of communicative actions, we have investigated the neurophysiological mechanisms supporting the creation of novel shared symbols. In contrast to recent models of communication focused on automatic sensorimotor couplings, we have provided empirical evidence for the notion that human communication relies on shared conceptual inferences.

Key grants and prizes

  • 2011 – 2015: Research grant from NWO on “What is a mental simulation?” (Program “Brain and Cognition: An Integrated Approach”; ~500 k€ - main applicant: Ivan Toni; co-applicants: Chris Dijkerman, Floris de Lange, Frans Leijten).
  • 2010 – 2014: Research grant from Donders Centre for Cognition, Radboud University Nijmegen on “How movements mean: A computational model of nonverbal communication” (~200 k€ - main applicants: Iris van Rooij, Ivan Toni, & Pim Haselager).
  • 2009 – 2014: Research grant from NWO-MAGW on “Raising glasses and pointing fingers: A neurocognitive account of communicative actions” (VICI Programme; ~1300 k€ - main applicant: Ivan Toni).
  • 2004 – 2009: Research grant from the European Union on “Joint Action in Science and Technology” (6th Framework Programme; ~6000 k€; work-package leader).
  • 2003 – 2008: Research grant from NWO-MAGW (NL) on ”Neural dynamics of movement representations” (VIDI Programme - ~600 k€ - main applicant: Ivan Toni).

Key publications

  • Verhagen L, Dijkerman HC, Medendorp WP, Toni I 
    Cortical dynamics of sensorimotor integration during grasp planning. journal of Neuroscience 32:4508-4519 (2012)
  • Helmich RC, Janssen ML, Oyen WJ, Bloem BR, Toni I 
    Pallidal dysfunction drives a physiological cerebello-thalamic circuit into parkinsonian tremor. Annals of Neurology 69:269–281 (2011)
  • Volman I, Roelofs K, Koch S, Verhagen L, Toni I  
    Inhibition of anterior prefrontal cortex impairs control over social-emotional behavior. Current Biology 21:1766-1770 (2011)
  • Willems RM, de Boer M, de Ruiter JP, Noordzij ML, Hagoort P, Toni I  
    A cerebral dissociation between linguistic and communicative abilities in humans. Psychological Science 21:8-14 (2010)
  • Newman-Norlund S, Noordzij M, Newman-Norlund R, Volman I, de Ruiter JP, Hagoort P, Toni I  
    Recipient Design in Tacit Communication. Cognition 111:46-54 (2009)

Research Group
Intention and Action

Principal Investigator
Prof. I. Toni

Group members

Guest scientist
Dr. Arjen Stolk

Post Doc
Simon Leipold
Sara Bogels

Laura van de Braak
Anke Murillo Oosterwijk
Mariana Carneiro de Andrade
Miriam Greidanus Romaneli
Mesian Tilmatine

Research assistants
Daniela Santana
Hilde Althof

MSc and BSc students
Sophia Walker
Robin Devillers
Anqi Lei
Eleonora Carpino
Davide Ahmar

*Open group photo (jpg, 406 kB)

Contact information

Postal address
Postbus 9101