Automaticity is the ability to do things without occupying the mind with the low-level details required, allowing it to become an automatic response pattern or habit. It is usually the result of learning, repetition, and practice. Examples of tasks carried out by muscle memory often involve some degree of automaticity.

Examples of automaticity are common activities such as walking, speaking, bicycle-riding, assembly-line work, and driving a car.  After an activity is sufficiently practiced, it is possible to focus the mind on other activities or thoughts while undertaking an automatized activity (for example, holding a conversation while driving a car). This is the reason a person can complete a regular journey such as driving to work and subsequently have no memory of the journey. Likewise it is the reason someone might start off on a journey to a particular place but find themselves unintentionally somewhere else that they regularly drive to because the initial part of the route was the same - what some people refer to as "driving on auto-pilot".


Four characteristics usually accompany automatic behavior:

  • Awareness: A person may be unaware of the mental process that is occurring.
  • Intentionality: A person may not intentionally initiate a mental process.
  • Efficiency: Automatic mental processes tend to have a low cognitive load, requiring relatively low mental resources.
  • Controllability: A person may not have the ability to stop or alter a process after initiation.

Flight safety context

While not a cognitive bias, automaticity refers to the fact that humans who perform tasks repeatedly will eventually learn to perform them automatically. While generally a positive attribute, this can lead to a person automatically performing a function (such as a checklist item) without actually being cognizant of the task itself.  Expectation bias can lead them to assume that the item is correctly configured even if it is not.

An interrupted routine process, such as pre-landing checks, may lead to both pilots on a commercial aircraft being unaware that the checks have been missed. In any situation where checklists are interrupted it is good practice to go back and start the checks again.

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