Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Medical, Legal, Wikipedia.


Spontaneous activity of tissues or cells.
An act performed with no apparent exercise of will, as in sleepwalking and certain hysterical and epileptic states.


(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Automatism covers acts that are automatic in so far as they are not consciously produced. This would cover such things as automatic writing, drawing, painting, playing musical instruments, singing, and dancing. Frederick W. H. Myers divided automatism into two main types: motor automatism (active) and sensory automatism (passive). Motor automatism is movement of the tongue, head, or limbs, without guidance by the conscious mind. Sensory automatism is the external presentation of information received clairvoyantly or clairaudiantly. Rosemary Ellen Guiley points out that since ancient time automatisms have been attributed to spirits and to the gods.

The spirit paintings such as those done by the Bangs sisters are examples of automatism in which paintings were produced directly onto the canvases. The music of deceased masters played by Rosemary Brown is another example. Many such occurrences have been viewed by skeptics as examples of extrasensory perception or of secondary personalities coming through and producing information that has been long suppressed and forgotten. However, there are numerous cases of automatic writing which refute this explanation, producing material totally foreign to the automatist. A good example of this is the material that was produced by Pearl Curran, first by Ouija® board and then by automatic writing. Mrs. Curran, a St. Louis housewife, had sparse education and yet produced writings—over a period of more than seven years—which displayed detailed knowledge of life in the mid-1600s, both in England and in the American colonies. This was dictated by the spirit of a seventeenth century English woman named Patience Worth. It has been viewed as one of the finest examples ever of spirit contact.


Buckland, Raymond: Buckland’s Book of Spirit Communications. St. Paul: Llewellyn, 2004
Guiley, Rosemary Ellen: The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits. New York: Facts On File, 1992



(1) In physiology, the capacity of an organ or of certain cells for rhythmic, periodic, or aperiodic activity without apparent connection with external, inciting causes. Some examples of automatism are heart contractions, looping of the intestines even when removed from the body, the fluttering of the cilia of certain epithelial cells, and the movement of protoplasm in plant cells. The cause of automatism is either the cyclic character of metabolic processes in the cells or, on a higher level of organization, the activity of systems of stimulated cells—for example, nerve cells located in the cardiac muscle or in the respiratory center of the brain. Another form of automatism, resulting from the strengthening of conditioned reflex connections, is stereotypical activity performed passively and mechanically—for example, the movement of the extremities in walking, the so-called associated movements of various groups of muscles (in the neck, trunk, or extremities), and other motor automatisms.


(2) In psychology, an action performed with the almost complete absence of conscious control. In contradistinction to physiological processes (such as breathing and the working of the heart), which are originally involuntary, psychological actions proceed primarily under conscious control and are only gradually transformed, as learning proceeds, into automatic acts that become the basis for various kinds of habits. On the physiological level, automatism corresponds to the dynamic stereotype.


References in periodicals archive ?
Being most familiar with the doctrines of insanity and automatism, I found Chapters 5 and 6, which explored the law and evidentiary requirements on these topics, particularly engaging.
automatism has been construed very narrowly by the courts.
A causal relationship between alleged criminal behaviour and an epileptic automatism is usually characterised by the following features: (2,16,24,25)
The painter, if he scrupulously respected Bretons directions and adopted the "most passive or receptive state" possible, would achieve nothing more than a sort of graphic automatism.
Such a development is a radical departure from the automatisms of photography and film, promoting a careful consideration of the ontological differences between cameras and "logically, [.
Thus, in The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman (1972), Carter posits the specifically phallocentric character of the machinelike automatism that Hoffmann and Balzac depict as negating the metamorphic potential of the imagination.
Appearing almost human amidst all this non-stop automatism, these long-limbed coils vaguely hint at infatuation or befuddlement.
Sutton said he was suffering from automatism - which left him physically but not mentally in control of his car - in the moments before the crash.
The temporary illusion that their sculptures is based on requires a necessary distance from the spectator, who needs to contemplate the (apparent) debunking of the artistic authority at the hands of the machine's automatism.
This is exactly the way automatism works because of the way in which the sense of what emerges from the automatic flow often does not become clear until afterwards, as with Breton's discovery of the meaning of his own prophetic automatic poem "Tournesol" only eleven years after he wrote it.
This article analyses a number of recent Australian cases dealing with provocation and automatism in order to address the question of whether a relationship breakdown should be considered a sufficient factor to exculpate an accused, either partially or totally, from criminal responsibility, it will examine the Victorian Law Reform Commission's recent recommendations that the defence of provocation should be abolished and the current law pertaining to automatism be retained.

Full browser ?