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Trends Cogn Sci. 2016 Jun;20(6):414-424. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2016.03.013. Epub 2016 Apr 22.

Navigating the Affordance Landscape: Feedback Control as a Process Model of Behavior and Cognition.

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Institute of Cognitive Sciences and Technologies, National Research Council, Via San Martino della Battaglia 44, 00185 Rome, Italy. Electronic address:
Department of Neuroscience, University of Montréal, 2960 chemin de la tour, room 4117, Montréal Québec, H3T 1J4, Canada.


We discuss how cybernetic principles of feedback control, used to explain sensorimotor behavior, can be extended to provide a foundation for understanding cognition. In particular, we describe behavior as parallel processes of competition and selection among potential action opportunities ('affordances') expressed at multiple levels of abstraction. Adaptive selection among currently available affordances is biased not only by predictions of their immediate outcomes and payoffs but also by predictions of what new affordances they will make available. This allows animals to purposively create new affordances that they can later exploit to achieve high-level goals, resulting in intentional action that links across multiple levels of control. Finally, we discuss how such a 'hierarchical affordance competition' process can be mapped to brain structure.


active inference; affordance competition; embodied cognition; feedback control

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