Psychologie und Medizinische Wissenschaften

Research Interests

My main research interests are in the area of cognition, action, and embodied cognition. I am particularly interested in the role of cognitive processes in motor expertise (playing a musical instrument, skilled typing, and sports). Furthermore I am interested in action-effect transformations (as in tool use) and motor imagery. Results from those projects have implications for the acquisition of motor skills (e.g. in sports and rehabilitation) and questions in applied psychology (e.g. the design of technical devices). In addition, I am interested in cognitive processes in aging, the role of sleep for cognitive processes, and the neuropsychology of action inhibition and error processing.

From a theoretical viewpoint, a lot of my research was inspired by the ideomotor principle: the idea that the action-effect representations (intended/desired effects, perceived potential action effects) activate the corresponding actions. My research showed that the ideomotor principle plays an important role in skilled action like typing in the 10-finger-system (Rieger, 2004, 2007), and playing a musical instrument (Drost et al. 2005 a, b; Drost et al., 2007). It does not only apply when someone produces a change in the environment (effect-directed action), but also when one changes one’s own situation in the environment (target-directed action; Walter & Rieger, 2012a,b). From a computational viewpoint the ideomotor principle can be described as an inverse model, selecting motor commands according to an intended action goal. Goal representations/action effects are important for movement selection even in very simple reversal movements (Rieger 2007), easy action-effect transformations (Rieger et al., 2005; Dietrich, Prinz & Rieger, 2012, Rieger, Dietrich & Prinz 2014a,b), and more complex (nonlinear) action-effect transformations (Rieger et al., 2008).

I am also interested in forward models in action control, i.e. the idea that the brain predicts the outcomes of an ongoing action. This process for example contributes to recognizing movement errors before they are committed, especially in skilled performance like piano playing (Maidhof et al., 2009). I also investigate the role of external feedback, i.e. the actual action effects observed in the environment (Maidhof et al., 2010; Rieger, 2007).

Not only did I investigate action execution, but also control mechanisms contributing to action modification (Rieger et al., 2005), or even complete suppression of ongoing actions in brain-damaged and healthy participants (Rieger & Gauggel, 1999, 2002; Rieger et al., 2003; Rieger et al., 2004).

The perspective on action control outlined above can not only be applied to the execution of actions, but also to the imagination of one’s own actions (motor imagery) and the simulation of other people’s action during action observation. I one project, the effects of motor expertise and aging on action simulation during the observation of others were investigated (Diersch et al., 2012, Diersch et al., 2013) with behavioural experiments as well as in an fMRI study.

With respect to motor imagery I investigated issues such as whether errors are represented during motor imagery (Rieger, Martinez & Wenke, 2011), what role action familiarity plays for adequate motor imagery (Rieger, 2012) and whether tool characteristics are represented in motor imagery (Rieger & Massen, 2014). I am currently running a project on the topic of “Forward models in motor imagery”, funded by the Austrian Science Fund. The major aim of the project is to investigate to what extent accurate predictions about the ongoing state of the motor system and effects in the environment are made during motor imagery. For updates on this project refer to this website:

Lately, I also started research on agency (Pfister et al., 2014). In particular, in the future the effects of performance skill on the experience of agency shall be investigated.