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Considering the role of cognitive control in expert performance

Toner, John; Montero, Barbara Gail; Moran, Aidan


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Dr John Toner
Lecturer in Sports Coaching and Performance

Barbara Gail Montero

Aidan Moran


© 2014, Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht. Dreyfus and Dreyfus’ (1986) influential phenomenological analysis of skill acquisition proposes that expert performance is guided by non-cognitive responses which are fast, effortless and apparently intuitive in nature. Although this model has been criticised (e.g., by Breivik Journal of Philosophy of Sport, 34, 116–134 2007, Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, 40, 85–106 2013; Eriksen 2010; Montero Inquiry:An interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy, 53, 105–122 2010; Montero and Evans 2011) for over-emphasising the role that intuition plays in facilitating skilled performance, it does recognise that on occasions (e.g., when performance goes awry for some reason) a form of ‘detached deliberative rationality’ may be used by experts to improve their performance. However, Dreyfus and Dreyfus (1986) see no role for calculative problem solving or deliberation (i.e., drawing on rules or mental representations) when performance is going well. In the current paper, we draw on empirical evidence, insights from athletes, and phenomenological description to argue that ‘continuous improvement’ (i.e., the phenomenon whereby certain skilled performers appear to be capable of increasing their proficiency even though they are already experts; Toner and Moran 2014) among experts is mediated by cognitive (or executive) control in three distinct sporting situations (i.e., in training, during pre-performance routines, and while engaged in on-line skill execution). We conclude by arguing that Sutton et al. Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology, 42, 78–103 (2011) ‘applying intelligence to the reflexes’ (AIR) approach may help to elucidate the process by which expert performers achieve continuous improvement through analytical/mindful behaviour during training and competition.


Toner, J., Montero, B. G., & Moran, A. (2015). Considering the role of cognitive control in expert performance. Phenomenology and the cognitive sciences, 14(4), 1127-1144.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Apr 1, 2014
Online Publication Date Dec 13, 2014
Publication Date Dec 1, 2015
Deposit Date Jul 10, 2015
Publicly Available Date Jul 10, 2015
Journal Phenomenology and the cognitive sciences
Print ISSN 1568-7759
Electronic ISSN 1572-8676
Publisher Springer Verlag
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 14
Issue 4
Pages 1127-1144
Keywords Expertise, Dreyfus, Hubert L., Dreyfus, Stuart E., Embodiment, Cognitive/executive control
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Additional Information Author's accepted manuscript of article which has been published in: Phenomenology and the cognitive sciences, 2014. The final publication is available at Springer via


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