A systematic evaluation of the evidence for Perceptual Control Theory in tracking studies

Max Parker, Andrew Willett, Sarah Tyson, Andrew Weightman, Warren Mansell

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Perceptual control theory (PCT) proposes that perceptual inputs are controlled to intentional ‘reference’ states by hierarchical negative feedback control, evidence for which comes from manual tracking experiments in humans. We reviewed these experiments to determine whether tracking is process of perceptual control, and to assess the state-of-the-evidence for PCT. A systematic literature search was conducted of peer-review journal and book chapters in which tracking data were simulated with a PCT model (13 studies, 53 participants). We report a narrative review of these studies and a qualitative assessment of their methodological quality. We found evidence that individuals track to individual-specific endogenously-specified reference states and act against disturbances, and evidence that hierarchical PCT can simulate complex tracking. PCT’s learning algorithm, reorganization, was not modelled. Limitations exist in the range of tracking conditions under which the PCT model has been tested. Future PCT research should apply the PCT methodology to identify control variables in real-world tasks and develop hierarchical PCT architectures for goal-oriented robotics to test the plausibility of PCT model-based action control.
Original languageEnglish
JournalNeuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews
Early online date21 Feb 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 21 Feb 2020


  • Perceptual Control Theory
  • Sensorimotor Control
  • Mathematical Models
  • Tracking


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