The word automatism was first used during mid19th century. The word originated from a French word called automatisme which meant acting to itself. Oxford dictionary defines automatism as anything that the person does without being conscious or with intention ("automatism: definition of automatism in Oxford dictionary", n.d.). Generally automatism refers to any act that is performed without having any sort of consciousness or any involvement of active mind. As like example, we can take sleepwalking as an automatism in which a person moves without having being in consciousness. The person lacks absolute control over his action.
Automatism have several meaning. Automatism is used in art, in medicine as well as in law. In law, automatism refers to defense to liability. Anyone who performs crime with automatism have very high chance of not getting punished form the court. In medicine automatism refers to the state when a patient takes medicines several times for an individual not being able to remember the previous doses that they took which will eventually lead to overdose of the drug. It also refers to uninteresting insensible gesticulations as like lip smacking in some form of epilepsy. Automatism is equally used in art by surrealist artist in which the artist expresses their creativity with unconscious mind.
Whatever be the scenario, automatism is mostly used in law in which it is understood as the defendant not being aware of his/her actions that were illegal. There have been several cases when the defendant has committed crimes but they were not conscious of what they were doing.
Automatism may last for few minutes to even up to an hour or more. In this period, the person is unaware of his or her surrounding and keeps repeating the act without even knowing by himself. Once the person recovers from automatism, then he/she won’t be able to recall what they have done in a moment ago. Law have considered automatism as excusable offence and many countries do not punish a person with automatism even if they commit crimes. However, in such condition they should be completely unconscious and must act voluntarily. Automatism in art have given very progressive result. Even in art, the artist loses the consciousness over his/her art and eventually his/her subconscious mind takes over his hand and new form of art is created.
However having automatism does not mean people is insane. There is an ongoing debate about insanity vs. automatism. But experts have now classified automatism as sane automatism and insane automatism. Insane automatism is caused due to internal state of body or internal factor like sick mind or disease of mind while sane automatism is caused due to external factors like banging of head or having overdose of medicine. No matter what it is or in which field it is used, automatism just means the act of doing things voluntarily without the conscious mind and it is being used in several disciplines especially in legal field. Even several suggestions are put forward to amend the laws regarding automatism.