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Convergent and Divergent Operations in Cognitive Search

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3 Author(s)

Human goal-directed action emerges from the interaction between stimulus-driven sensorimotor online systems and slower-working control systems that relate highly processed perceptual information to the construction of goal-related action plans. This distribution of labor requires the acquisition of enduring action representations; that is, of memory traces which capture the main characteristics of successful actions and their consequences. It is argued here that these traces provide the building blocks for off-line prospective action planning, which renders the search through stored action representations an essential part of action control. Hence, action planning requires cognitive search (through possible options) and might have led to the evolution of cognitive search routines that humans have learned to employ for other purposes as well, such as searching for perceptual events and through memory. Thus, what is commonly considered to represent different types of search operations may all have evolved from action planning and share the same characteristics. Evidence is discussed which suggests that all types of cognitive search—be it in searching for perceptual events, for suitable actions, or through memory—share the characteristic of following a fixed sequence of cognitive operations: divergent search followed by convergent search.