12 Expertise, Skill, and Everyday Action

People always seem to be doing something.

-- Vallacher & Wegner, 1987, p. 3

The everyday world is just that: what people do in daily, weekly, monthly, ordinary cycles of activity.

-- Lave, 1988, p. 15

The performances of experts, and our performance of routine everyday actions such as getting dressed or driving to work, pose a serious challenge for a consciousness-centered cognitive theory. These activities are clearly goal-directed, but seem to be performed with a kind of mindlessness often associated with automaticity ( Langer, 1978, 1992). Mindlessness in this sense is sometimes evoked to explain how experts are apparently able to attend to high-level aspects of their tasks while performing lower-level components automatically, and how it is that we make such everyday errors as pouring coffee on our breakfast cereal. At the same time, expert and routine performance is closely tuned to environmental regularities, relying on informational support from the environment.

In this chapter, I discuss some of the research on expertise and on everyday action, considering its implications for understanding experienced cognition. The central theme of my argument is that understanding the role of consciousness in expertise and in everyday action depends on recognizing that action can be described at multiple levels and that high levels of skill are associated with informational constraints on cospecification and egolocative processing.

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