Definition of automatism in US English:



  • 1The performance of actions without conscious thought or intention.

    ‘diabetic patients who commit crimes while hypoglycemic may be able to plead automatism’
    • ‘The musician's defence relies partly on being a victim of mistaken identity after becoming confused with his tour manager, and partly on a condition called non-insane automatism brought on by a sleeping tablet and alcohol.’
    • ‘This problem highlights the difficulty in delineating the dividing line between automatism and insanity, or, as it is often termed non-insane automatism and insane automatism.’
    • ‘In any case, automatism itself, though perhaps a kind of bypassing of the will, does not seem to me to represent necessarily an impairment of the agent's volitional capacities.’
    • ‘Thus, where the malfunctioning of the mind is caused by an external factor, the legal classification is automatism rather than insanity; where it is arises from an internal cause, the classification is insanity.’
    • ‘The barrister added another issue the defence could well raise was that of non-insane automatism, a condition brought about ‘as a result of the combination of drink and drugs he consumed.’’
    1. 1.1 An action performed unconsciously or involuntarily.
      ‘automatisms occurred in all four epileptic syndromes’
      • ‘Motor automatisms were the ‘movement of limbs or hand or tongue, initiated by an inner motor impulse beyond the conscious will’.’
      • ‘Six patients described an aura, and three were noted to have automatisms.’
      • ‘He sums up his discussion of automatisms (automatic writing and so on) by saying that they ‘represent a class of instances in which apparent mental causation fails.’’
    2. 1.2Art The avoidance of conscious intention in producing works of art, especially by using mechanical techniques or subconscious associations.
      • ‘That Breton should eventually have been disappointed in the techniques of automatism does not affect his initial excitement over them, or their ongoing importance in the worlds of literature and art.’
      • ‘His esthetic interests ran to European Surrealism, and with William Baziotes and Jackson Pollock he began to experiment with nontraditional ways of making art, including automatism.’
      • ‘Like many midcentury abstractionists, he was influenced by the Surrealist idea of automatism, which he incorporated into his early works.’
      • ‘Despite these developments, the decline of automatism as a Surrealist technique can be perceived as early as 1930, the date of the Second Surrealist Manifesto.’
      • ‘The Manifesto made it clear that Surrealism did not seek to advance a new definition of literature, but sought to deploy automatism to undermine the very basis of reality itself.’
      • ‘It is close to the automatism of surrealism with its rapid drawing and loose brushwork that encouraged the spilling and dripping of the liquid paint.’


Mid 19th century: from French automatisme, from automate ‘automaton’, from Greek automatos ‘acting of itself’ (see automaton).