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Awareness

Awareness

Awareness is a term that is widely used, yet there is no globally accepted operational definition of awareness. More often than not, ‘awareness’ is used interchangeably with ‘consciousness’ to describe a state of perceiving, feeling, or knowing about an experience, object, or event.

Some scholars highlight subtle distinctions between the two concepts. The content of awareness, for instance, has been considered to refer to information that is directly available to guide behavior. Whether this information reaches consciousness is a function of individual differences, situation, and environment. For example, both expert and novice golfers can be aware of the ‘borrow’ on a putting green, but differences in experience may make the expert player more likely consciously to access such information to guide performance. As such, awareness can be considered to be a prerequisite for consciousness (see Bargh & Morsella, 2008).

Others prefer to distinguish between conscious awareness and unconscious awareness. Conscious awareness refers to experiences that can be verbally reported and acted upon, whereas, unconscious awareness refers to subjective or qualitative experiences that are felt but not consciously accessed (see Chalmers, 1995). For instance, a basketball player preparing for a free-throw may be consciously aware of the ball in his/her hands, the distance to the hoop, and perhaps even other players standing nearby. The crowd noise, lighting, and background music, however, may be in unconscious awareness (i.e., the player can sense and feel them but not report their details). In such cases, there may be a lack of awareness of the influences of such stimuli, but not of the stimuli themselves.

The role of conscious awareness has often been investigated by researchers interested in skill acquisition. For example, it is widely accepted that conscious awareness is high during early stages of skill learning, when movement execution is effortful and attention demanding. Consequently, beginners can explicitly relate their movements to the outcomes to formulate motor solutions that allow effective performance. During later stages of skill learning, conscious awareness of movement execution appears to be reduced (see Masters, 2012). Experts often can execute their movements automatically and may even have difficulty describing what they do. Indeed, conscious awareness has been shown sometimes to disrupt their performance.

References

Bargh, J. A., & Morsella, E. (2008). The unconscious mind. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 3, 73 79.

Chalmers, D. J. (1995). Facing up to the problem of consciousness. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 2, 200 219.

Masters, R. S. W. (2012). Conscious and unconscious awareness in learning and performance. In S. M. Murphy (Ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Sport and Performance Psychology (pp. 131 153). New York, NY: Oxford University Press. https://amzn.to/3Wf6tHp

***Contributed by Rich Masters & Liis Uiga for Hackfort, D., Schinke, R. J., & Strauss, B. (Eds.). (2019). Dictionary of sport psychology: sport, exercise, and performing arts. Academic Press. https://amzn.to/3ZxARzT