The Motivated Behaviour Lab is led by Dr. Ruud Custers and investigates the cognitive and affective sources of motivated behaviour. The main question this lab tries to answer is how motivated behaviour arises in our everyday social surroundings. It is assumed that these surrounding can make certain goals cognitively more accessible which may affect behaviour, sometimes outside of awareness.


A general framework to understand such effects was published in Science (2010) and is depicted on the right. It holds that goal representations that are activated outside of conscious awareness can influence behaviour as the result of two distinct processes: the activation of action representations and the detection of reward signals.

Most research focusses on one or both components. For instance Custers & Aarts (2007) and Custers et al. (2008) demonstrated the activation of action representations given the social setting as a function of subliminal primes. Bijleveld et al. (2009) and Bijleveld et al. (2012) demonstrated the effects of detection of reward cues outside awareness on amongst others the effort that people invest in tasks. Finally, studies such as Custers & Aarts (2005) and Aarts et. al. (2008) demonstrate that when representations of action effects are linked to reward cues, effects that are similar to those of goal priming are observed. That is, action is prepared and effort is recruited.

Current research aims to extend this framework. Other research interests and techniques used in the lab are: goals and cognitive control; evaluative conditioning; subliminal priming; continuous flash suppression; intuition and superstition.

The Unconscious Will

How the Pursuit of Goals Operates Outside of Conscious Awareness
The Unconscious Will

Proposed mechanism for unconscious goal pursuit. Demonstrating how people can unconsciously detect the reward value of a primed goal and prepare feasible actions that make the goal attainable, producing goal pursuit even outside people’s conscious awareness.

From Custers & Aarts, 2010

Lab Members

Dr. Ruud Custers

Ruud Custers received his PhD cum laude from Utrecht University, the Netherlands, in 2006, for his research on the underlying mechanisms on unconscious goal pursuit. For the main paper in his dissertation he received the ESCON best paper award and the Kurt Lewin best paper award. Subsequently, Ruud Custers be became Assistant and Associate Professor in Utrecht before joining UCL as Senior Lecturer in 2012.

Toby Pilditch (PhD Student)

During final undergraduate year at Cardiff University, my latent interest in cognitive biases and the Judgement and Decision making research domain was realized, leading to my application to the MSc Cognitive and Decision Sciences course at UCL.I took up my place here at UCL in October 2012 (full time), aiming to graduate August 2013. During this time my interest in how people attempt to make causal sense out of coincidental chaos has been one of the driving questions that I hope to investigate in a PhD here at UCL.

Lucía Magis Weinberg (PhD Student)

Lucía is a first-year PhD student in Cognitive, Perceptual and Brain Sciences. She trained as a medical doctor in the National Autonomous University of Mexico and graduated in 2012. Motivated by studying the brain in pain (not hers, but that of the experimental subjects) she decided to focus on research in psychology and neuroscience. She completed an MSc in Cognitive Neuroscience at UCL in 2013 studying the social influence in teenagers’ perception of risk in Prof. Sarah-Jayne Blakemore’s lab. Her primary interests centre on how social cognition and cognitive control develop during adolescence. During her PhD she will be studying the effect of social and non-social goals on executive performance in adolescents and adults under the supervision of Dr Ruud Custers and Dr Iroise Dumontheil, using behavioural and neuroimaging techniques. In her spare time, Lucía tries to get people to enjoy and engage in science. She can often be found volunteering at the Science Museum in London.

Irina Rochal (PhD Student)

Irina was born in the beautiful city of St. Petersburg, Russia, but grew up in the Bavarian capital Munich, Germany. In between her High school years she spent one year in America before moving to London and receiving her BSc in psychology from the University College London (UCL) in 2013. Now she is a first year MPhil/PhD student in cognitive, perceptual and brain sciences at UCL. Irina's research focuses on what makes people conscious of goal related stimuli. She has always been fascinated with human's behaviour and the factors that influence and bring us to our action with a special interest in the subconsciousness. In this lab Irina will use a new methodology called "Continuous Flash Suppression" (CFS) - which uses the bases of binocular rivalry - to try to demystify how people's goals enter their consciousness. In her free time Irina loves to read, watch good movies and travel.

Dominic Meehan (Lab Assistant)

Dominic is a second year undergraduate studying for his BSc in Psychology at UCL. He has discovered a particular interest in social psychology during his studies, with a focus on unconscious desires and motivations. He hopes to discover a specific area of research interest and gain a greater understanding of the processes involved in research before pursuing a career in academia.

Undergraduate Students
  • Annie Gaule

Past lab members

Pascal Pas (Research Assistant)

Overall interest is how motivated action is represented in the brain. Was part of an fMRI project with the aim to investigate the role of the ventral striatum in outcome priming effects on motivated action. Also personally ran an additional EEG study looking at the role of feedback in establishing stimulus-response mappings (analyzed with Brainvision Analyzer).

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