My research focus is on the conscious control of skilled mental activity, and how control and experience change with increasing skill. This research is guided by a theory of consciousness described in my bookExperienced Cognition (1997). My students and I study the fine-grained structure of deliberate control in complex tasks such as symbolic and spatial problem solving and reasoning. We are currently developing a model of the time course of deliberate control, tracing the evolution of goal representations in stages: plan, intention, procedure, outcome representation. These stages occur at each step of complex mental activity, on a time scale of a second or so. The model emphasizes the importance of processes for coordination, placekeeping, and monitoring.
Recent empirical work emphasizes the roles of affect (emotional valence) and cognitive load in achieving deliberate control of fluent mental activities. Our college-student participants find tasks such as counting on-screen events and performing running arithmetic quite challenging, despite the highly-skilled nature of the component skills for these tasks. Such tasks therefore provide rich paradigms for understanding control, and for developing a theory of deliberate control.
Cassenti, D.N. & Carlson, R.A. (2008). Effect of pacing and working memory loads on error type patterns in a routine skill. American Journal of Psychology, 121, 57-81.
Carlson, R.A., Avraamides, M.N., Cary, M., & Strasberg, S. (2007). What do the hands externalize in simple arithmetic? Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 33, 747-756.
Bruce, A.S., Ray, W.J., Bruce, J.M., Arnett, P.A. & Carlson, R.A. (2007). The relationship between executive functioning and dissociation. Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology, 29, 626-633.
Bruce, A.S., Ray, W.J., & Carlson, R.A. (2007). Understanding cognitive failures: What’s dissociation got to do with it? American Journal of Psychology, 120, 553-563.
Carlson, R.A. (2007). Intentions, errors, and experience. In W.D. Gray (Ed.), Integrated models of cognitive systems, pp. 388-399. New York: Oxford University Press.
Carlson, R.A. & Cassenti, D.N. (2004). Intentional control of event counting. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 30, 1235-1251.
Stevenson, L.M. & Carlson, R.A. (2003). Information acquisition strategies and the cognitive structure of arithmetic. Memory & Cognition, 31, 1249-1259.
Sohn, M.-H. & Carlson, R.A. (2003). Viewpoint alignment and response conflict during spatial judgment.Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 10, 907-916.
Sohn, M.-H. & Carlson, R.A. (2003). Implicit temporal tuning of working memory strategy during cognitive skill acquisition. American Journal of Psychology, 116, 239-256.
Avraamides, M.N. & Carlson, R.A. (2003). Egocentric organization of spatial activities in imagined navigation.Memory & Cognition, 31, 252-261.
Carlson, R.A. (2003). Skill learning. In The Encyclopedia of Cognitive Science. Macmillan Reference Ltd
Carlson, R.A. (1997). Experienced Cognition. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.