Do we reflect while performing skillful actions? Automaticity, control, and the perils of distraction

Philosophical Psychology 30 (7):896-924 (2017)
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Abstract

From our everyday commuting to the gold medalist’s world-class performance, skillful actions are characterized by fine-grained, online agentive control. What is the proper explanation of such control? There are two traditional candidates: intellectualism explains skillful agentive control by reference to the agent’s propositional mental states; anti-intellectualism holds that propositional mental states or reflective processes are unnecessary since skillful action is fully accounted for by automatic coping processes. I examine the evidence for three psychological phenomena recently held to support anti-intellectualism and argue that it supports neither traditional candidate, but an intermediate attention-control account, according to which the top-down, intention-directed control of attention is a necessary component of skillful action. Only this account recognizes both the role of automatic control in skilled action and the need for higher-order cognition to thread automatic processes together into a unified, skillful performance. This applies to bodily skillful action in general, from the world-class performance of experts to mundane, habitual action. The attention-control account stresses that, for intentions to play their role as top-down modulators of attention, agents must sustain the intention’s activation; hence, the need for reflecting throughout performance.

Author's Profile

Juan Pablo Bermúdez
Universidad Externado De Colombia

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