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The perils of automaticity

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


Classical theories of skill acquisition propose that automatization (i.e., performance requires progressively less attention as experience is acquired) is a defining characteristic of expertise in a variety of domains (e.g., Fitts & Posner, 1967). Automaticity is believed to enhance smooth and efficient skill execution by allowing performers to focus on strategic elements of performance rather than on the mechanical details that govern task implementation (Williams & Ford, 2008). By contrast, conscious processing (i.e., paying conscious attention to one’s action during motor execution) has been found to disrupt skilled movement and performance proficiency (e.g., Beilock & Carr, 2001). On the basis of this evidence, researchers have tended to extol the virtues of automaticity. However, few researchers have considered the wide range of empirical evidence which indicates that highly automated behaviors can, on occasion, lead to a series of errors that may prove deleterious to skilled performance. Therefore, the purpose of the current paper is to highlight the perils, rather than the virtues, of automaticity. We draw on Reason’s (1990) classification scheme of everyday errors to show how an overreliance on automated procedures may lead to 3 specific performance errors (i.e., mistakes, slips, and lapses) in a variety of skill domains (e.g., sport, dance, music). We conclude by arguing that skilled performance requires the dynamic interplay of automatic processing and conscious processing in order to avoid performance errors and to meet the contextually contingent demands that characterize competitive environments in a range of skill domains.


Toner, J., Montero, B. G., & Moran, A. (2015). The perils of automaticity. Review of general psychology, 19(4), 431-442.

Acceptance Date Jan 1, 2015
Publication Date Dec 1, 2015
Deposit Date Dec 22, 2015
Publicly Available Date Nov 23, 2017
Journal Review of general psychology
Print ISSN 1939-1552
Electronic ISSN 1089-2680
Publisher American Psychological Association
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 19
Issue 4
Pages 431-442
Keywords Automaticity; Expertise; Performance error; Cognitive control
Public URL
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Additional Information Author's accepted manuscript of article published in: Review of general psychology, 2015, v.19, issue 4 This article may not exactly replicate the authoritative document published in the APA journal. It is not the copy of record.


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© 2015 American Psychological Association

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