Ideomotor first occurs in Alexander’s ‘Re-Education of the Kinæsthetic Systems’ (1908) and five times in MSI. It has not been used since.
‘Ideomotor’ is a 19th century psychological term first used (in English) by Carpenter in his influential Principles of Human Physiology (in print 1842–1881) to distinguish between movements resulting from an idea and from an emotion. The concept was developed over the years and its meaning changed to indicate a volitional action where movement followed from some sort of concept (idea) of the movement. That is, an ideo-motor action occurs when a thought (idea) results in the corresponding movement. It was generally believed that any thought automatically stimulated movement if unopposed by any form of inhibition. Inhibition could take the form of conflicting thoughts (‘antagonistic’) as when thinking attentively about something and considering it from different viewpoints. Hence to move, all that is needed is the ‘volitional direction of attention’ to those thoughts which would stimulate and thereby (reflexly) bring about the desired movements. Ideo-motor thus implies a conscious action.
‘I trust that I have now made clear what that idea of a movement is which must precede it in order that it be voluntary. It is not the thought of the innervation which the movement requires. It is the anticipation of the movement’s sensible effects, resident or remote, and sometimes very remote indeed. Such anticipations, to say the least, determine what our movements shall be.’
Here, James also writes that the expressed ‘fiat or act of mental consent’ will neutralize any inhibition and effectuate movement.
Alexander also uses the term ‘ideo-motor’ in MSI.
With the advent of the stimulus-response model in the early twentieth century the ideomotor concept fell out of favour, and this is probably the reason why the term is not used in CCC, UoS and UCL. However, the ideomotor concept was revived in the late twentieth century when research started to investigate conscious, volitional, intentional actions.
Kathleen Ballard covers the history of the ideo-motor principle in science and in the Alexander Technique, with an analysis of similarities and differences, together with updated scientific information on the subject, in her article, ‘Ideomotor principle. Was Alexander correct?’
Malcolm Williamson describes William James’s concept of ideomotor and compares it with Alexander’s in his 2016 F. M. Alexander Memorial lecture.
Although the term ‘ideomotor action’ has not been used by Alexander Technique teachers, it has some common features with ideokinesis and some forms of visualization which are used by some teachers.