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Mindlessness and Automaticity

Kathy Kellermann and Robert M. McCann


Mindlessness is the automatic (nonconscious) management of behavior. Mindless behavior is studied under many varied and related names: mindlessness, →  automaticity , tacit knowledge, implicit learning, implicit cognition, nonconscious processing and, as one recent popular book puts it, “blink” ( Langer 1978 ; Lewicki 1986 ; Reber 1993 ; Bargh & Ferguson 2000 ; Gladwell 2005 ; Litman & Reber 2005 ). Langer introduced mindlessness into social psychology nearly three decades ago ( Langer 1978 ). As editor of Communication Monographs , Judee Burgoon devoted a five-article “Chautauqua” to the concept in 1992 (see, e.g., Kellermann 1992 ). Mindless behavior is automated because it is familiar and overlearned; the behavior no longer needs conscious monitoring. Kellermann (1992) argued that communication is inherently strategic and mostly automatic due to familiar and overlearned →  schemas and →  scripts guiding →  Message Production and comprehension. Such overlearned and mindless behavior can be beneficial or hurtful. For example, intimate partners may fall into mindless, habitual patterns of disagreement or withdrawal in which they fail to consider even the simplest alternative pathways toward resolving their interpersonal issues. These partners also might develop a morning greeting ritual that starts each day on a positive note (→  Marital Communication ). Increasing ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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