The objective of this paper is to characterize the rich interplay between automatic and cognitive control processes that we propose is the hallmark of skill, in contrast to habit, and what accounts for its flexibility. We argue that this interplay isn't entirely hierarchical and static, but rather heterarchical and dynamic. We further argue that it crucially depends on the acquisition of detailed and well-structured action representations and internal models, as well as the concomitant development of metacontrol processes that can be used to shape and balance it.
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We thank John Toner for drawing our attention to this quote from Nadal.
Here we follow Shepherd (2014) in thinking that, in general, “[a]n agent in control is poised to handle any number of extenuating circumstances” (p. 399), so that a full understanding of the degree of control that an agent possesses will be evaluated in terms of the agent’s sensitivity to various features of these circumstances.
It is also worth noting here that, insofar as our account of the intelligence of skill depends heavily on the types of action representations deployed in expert skill, we depart from views of this intelligence defended by theorists like Dreyfus (2002), who hold that it can be “described and explained without recourse to mind and brain representations” (p. 367).
Importantly, these are not the same as the forward and inverse models often posited in the motor control literature, though these are referred to as internal models as well. For a discussion of these models, see Wolpert and Kawato (1998).
Note that the two types of representations can come apart. For instance, a sport commentator would be expected to have good internal models of the domains of, say, tennis or soccer, but not necessarily adequate SARs for actions in these domains. Her job is to comment intelligently on games, not to expertly play tennis or soccer. A professional player in contrast is supposed to have acquired both types of representations.
We thank two anonymous reviewers for this journal for pressing this issue.
Christensen et al. (2015) also emphasize the role played by internal models in the control of complex skilled action. They call them “causal control models”, reserving the term “internal model” for the forward and inverse models often discussed in the motor control literature (see fn. 6). In particular, they propose that causal control models “incorporate explicit representations of causal relations”, “are at least partly accessible to awareness and participate in high order control” (p. 346). But while they take it that skilled action control involves both more automatic control processes and control processes based on causal control models, they do not explicitly address the metacontrol issue of how agents arbitrate between these two forms of control (see Sect. 6).
Note that this emphasis on a proprietary kind of metacognitive phenomenology for skilled action vs. habit is consistent with the phenomenon of “expertise-induced amnesia”, which concerns the inaccessibility to verbal report of detailed aspects of skilled performance, as evidenced by some expert testimony (for reasons to doubt how widespread these reports are, see Bermúdez 2017). The outputs of metacognition pertain directly to the success of the first-order control process, but do not themselves carry any descriptive information about that process beyond this.
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Elisabeth Pacherie's work was supported by grants ANR-10-LABX-0087 IEC and ANR-10-IDEX-0001-02 PSL from the French Agence Nationale de la Recherche.
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Pacherie, E., Mylopoulos, M. Beyond Automaticity: The Psychological Complexity of Skill. Topoi 40, 649–662 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11245-020-09715-0
- Automatic control
- Cognitive control
- Structured action representations
- Internal models