au·​tom·​a·​tism ȯ-ˈtä-mə-ˌti-zəm How to pronounce automatism (audio)
: the quality or state of being automatic
: an automatic action
: the moving or functioning (as of an organ, tissue, or a body part) without conscious control that occurs either independently of external stimuli (as in the beating of the heart) or under the influence of external stimuli (as in pupil dilation)
: a theory that views the body as a machine and consciousness as a noncontrolling adjunct of the body
: suspension of the conscious mind to release subconscious images
automatism—the surrealist trend toward spontaneity and intuitionElle
automatist noun or adjective

Examples of automatism in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Acquaintance with surrealists who’d washed up in New York in the early 1940s introduced Motherwell to artistic automatism: spontaneous creation, without a plan. Scott Cantrell, Dallas News, 16 June 2023 There are many reasons why André Breton, the ringleader of the Surrealists, after first embracing Jacob’s work, eventually rejected it, but chief among them was probably his recognition that Jacob’s literary discipline left no room for the automatism that was so important to Breton. Jed Perl, The New York Review of Books, 25 Feb. 2021 Van Norman, however, points out that some exhibit spinal automatism, a complex spectrum of movements including flexion of limbs and trunk, stepping motions, grasping motions, and head turning. Dick Teresi, Discover Magazine, 19 Feb. 2012 Other analysts countered that the defense would be successful in only a minuscule number of cases and that there is a difference between extreme intoxication and extreme intoxication akin to automatism. Amanda Coletta, Washington Post, 13 May 2022 But once humans traveling in this manner exhibited the automatism of the technology itself, any interruption entailed a catastrophic return of the anxiety initially repressed. Will Self, Harper's Magazine, 23 Nov. 2021 Founded by French poet, essayist and critic André Breton, Surrealism rejected the premise that culture and politics should be guided by rational principles, instead elevating dreams, automatism and psychoanalysis. Isis Davis-Marks, Smithsonian Magazine, 16 Nov. 2020 While painters like André Masson and Joan Miró practiced visual automatism, others, René Magritte, Max Ernst and Salvador Dalí among them, used meticulous technique to create optical puns and illusions. Teju Cole, New York Times, 18 Oct. 2016 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'automatism.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


borrowed from French automatisme, from automate automaton + -isme -ism

Note: In a supplemental volume to the Encyclopédie of Denis Diderot, et al., coinage of the word is attributed to réaumur: "Mot inventé par M. Réaumur, pour exprimer la qualité d'automate dans l'animal, c'est-à-dire, le systême des mouvemens qui dépendent uniquement de l'organisme du corps animé, sans que la volonté y ait aucune part. Il mérite d'être adopté." (Dictionnaire pour servir de supplément aux Dictionnaire des sciences, des arts et des métiers, tome premier [Paris and Amsterdam, 1776], p. 726) ("Word invented by M. Réaumur to express the automaton-like quality of an animal, that is, the system of movements that depend solely on the animated body, without any participation of the will. It deserves adoption.") Whatever the merits of this claim, the word automatisme can be found in a number of French texts in the eighteenth century not written by Réaumur; in the preface to a French translation (Analise des infiniment petits, comprenant le calcul integral, Paris, 1735) of Edmund Stone's The Method of Fluxions both Direct and Inverse (London, 1730), René Descartes' views on the nature of animals are alluded to as "Automatisme Cartesien."

First Known Use

1776, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

Time Traveler
The first known use of automatism was in 1776

Dictionary Entries Near automatism

Cite this Entry

“Automatism.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 28 Nov. 2023.

Medical Definition


au·​tom·​a·​tism ȯ-ˈtäm-ə-ˌtiz-əm How to pronounce automatism (audio)
: an automatic action
especially : any action performed without the doer's intention or awareness
: the power or fact of moving or functioning without conscious control either independently of external stimulation (as in the beating of the heart) or more or less directly under the influence of external stimuli (as in the dilating or contracting of the pupil of the eye)
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