Does the mere presence of the things we have tended to influence our actions systematically, in ways that escape our awareness? For example, while entering a tool shed, does perceiving objects that we once tended to (e.g., tools, musical instruments) influence how we then execute a simple action (e.g., flicking the shed’s light switch)? Ancient traditions (e.g., feng shui) and contemporary approaches to action production (e.g., continuous flow and cascade models) hypothesize that the answer is yes. Although relevant to several fields (e.g., motor cognition, social cognition), for various reasons this hypothesis cannot be tested by traditional choiceresponse time interference paradigms, which involve more complex processes than our tool shed scenario. Using new paradigms that resemble detection tasks, three studies demonstrated that ‘very incidental’ actionrelated distracters systematically interfere with simple, repeated actions that involve minimal response selection and decision-making processes. In Study 2, incidental musical notation interfered more with the simple actions of expert sight-readers than with the same actions of non-musicians. A similar pattern of effects was obtained with a fully experimental design. The implications for theories of action production, environmentally-driven automaticity, and social cognition are discussed.

Open Access