Embodied intelligence and self-regulation in skilled performance: or, two anxious moments on the static trapeze

Kath Bicknell*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    3 Citations (Scopus)


    In emphasising improvement, smooth coping and success over variability and regression, skill theory has overlooked the processes performers at all levels develop and rely on for managing bodily and affective fluctuations, and their impact on skilled performance. I argue that responding to the instability and variability of unique bodily capacities is a vital feature of skilled action processes. I suggest that embodied intelligence – a term I use to describe a set of abilities to perceptively interpret and make use of information from body, mind, environment and task requirements, and to modulate one’s focus, awareness and action strategies accordingly – is critical for performing well-learned skills in vulnerable situations. It is critical for staying safe. To investigate these components of skilled action, I employ a cognitive ethnographic method, combined with apprenticeship on the static trapeze, to produce two ‘experience near’ case studies. These document in-situ experiences of awareness, self-regulation and embodied intelligence. Both reveal strong connections between a reflective awareness of bodily vulnerability and variability, and self-regulatory processes – specifically, the down- and up-regulation of anxiety. I then reflect on these case studies in relation to a prospective sense of agency, the awareness of control acts that may lead to performance outcomes. With increased clarity on these features of embodied intelligence and attention during action, other researchers can build on this study to further probe and map the maintenance and functions of embodied intelligence in dealing with the instability of skills.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)595–614
    Number of pages20
    JournalReview of Philosophy and Psychology
    Issue number3
    Early online date23 Feb 2021
    Publication statusPublished - Sept 2021


    • self-regulation
    • skill
    • sense of agency
    • cognitive ethnography


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