Motivation and emotion/Book/2016/Habit theories and behaviour

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Habit theories and behaviour:
How do habit theories account for behaviour?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Imagine being in a completely new environment. [grammar?] Something that would make you feel comfortable and at home would be the ability to engage in your usual habits and routines. Life can often be awkward and difficult without them. When habits are absent, choice and behaviour require awareness,[grammar?] thinking, and a controlled mode of processing. These cognition's[vague] can be exhausting and are hard to uphold for any length of time (Verplanken, 2006).

This chapter explores what habits are, where they come from and what can be done to change a habit. It will also consider common good and bad habits and how habit theories account for behaviour. From reading this chapter you should develop an idea of how to better your life and well being through the use of habits.

What is a habit?[edit | edit source]

Habits indicate one’s customary ways of behaving.[grammar?] Habit theory provides an understandable explanation for the performance of a behaviour that may otherwise be considered irrational or harmful to an individual[Rewrite to improve clarity]. Habits are often seen in popular psychology literature such as self-help books which are designed to specifically identify a reader’s habits, using habits to meet goals and establishing more desirable habits (Ouellette & Wood, 1998). There are some behaviours that may quickly turn into a habit (e.g., ,getting a coffee from the little shop outside your building every morning) and there are others that will require a lot more time and practice (e.g., learning to drive) (Verplanken, 2006).

Habit formation[edit | edit source]

In the initial stages of acquiring a skill or performing a certain behaviour, one’s intentions are conscious and deliberate. There is repetition in constant contexts and eventually these skills or behaviours will operate autonomously with minimal conscious guidance (Ouellette & Wood, 1998). Therefore, for a habit to develop the behaviour must be satisfactorily repeated in a stable context. When a person consistently faces the same behavioural choice in the same situation, he or she will tend to repeat his or her[grammar?] previous response. An association will then develop between the cues that define the context and the person’s response. If the context and response remain stable and satisfactory these associations will develop a level automatically (Ouellette & Wood, 1998). 

Ouellette and Woods (1998) conducted a study in which participants recorded hourly diary reports of ongoing behaviour. They also recorded the thoughts and feelings that accompany the behaviours. The results showed marked differences in behaviours considered “habits” (behaviours repeated in stable contexts) and behaviours considered “non-habitual”. The most important difference being that when compared with non-habitual behaviours, habits were associated with less thoughts and less intense emotions, and that these thoughts were often not associated with the behaviour. [grammar?] This suggests that habitual behaviour can easily occur in parallel with other, not related processes indicating automaticity (Verplanken, 2006).

Action without intention[edit | edit source]

Habitual behaviours occur in response to environmental events, often without any conscious intent to engage in a specific sequence of action.

A common example is answering the phone, when the phone rings you don’t consciously form an intention about which hand will pick up the phone, what you’re going to say or which intonation you are going to use when you give the standard greeting (Ouellette & Wood, 1998). Instead you will automatically pick up the phone press the answer button and a greeting will roll off your tongue. 

Past behaviour and frequency of behaviour theories[edit | edit source]

One of the biggest discrepancies in the study of habitual behaviour is whether past behaviour is a good predictor of future behaviour, and, more to the point, is past behaviour a good measure of habitual behaviour?

On one hand, it is believed that frequency of past behaviour is the best predictor of future behaviour. On the other hand it is argued that past-behaviour-future-behaviour relationship is not meaningful. Past behaviour has been previously discounted because of a limit on explanatory value of behavioural repetitions (Ouellette & Wood, 1998).

Ouellette and Wood (1998) believe that the relationship between past behaviours and future behaviours have been underestimated in the past. They believe that it is useful to reconsider the role of past behaviour, because of the reputed success of past behaviour as a predictor of future acts. Studying behaviour patterns gives a unique insight into the prediction and control of behaviour in a number of aspects of everyday life, one of the biggest being health-related behaviour. Similarly Verplanken and Orbell (2003) stated ‘‘the more frequently we perform a behaviour, the more likely it is to be habitual.’’ With a different view LaRose (2010) argued that, beyond the importance of frequency, researchers differ in opinion regarding whether habits depend on repeated behaviour in stable contexts or on the repeated satisfaction gained from the goals (Hartmann, Jung & Vorderer, 2012).

Frequency of behaviour v mental construct[edit | edit source]

Another point of view is that habits should not be studied by frequency but rather as a mental construct.

Contrary to his view in 2003 Verplanken (2006) describes habits as not being based on repetition per se and that the most important characteristics of habits are that they are smooth and fluent behaviours and that we do not need to think about what we are doing. Behaviourists have traditionally equated habits with behaviour frequency but Verplanken argues that even though repetition is a necessary condition for a habit to develop, the defining quality of a habit is the automaticity as well as the efficiency of the behaviour occurring in stable contexts. The frequent performance of a behaviour does not necessarily result in a habit,[grammar?] a doctor may send many patients to the operating theatre in a shift but you would hope that he was sending them there because that is where they needed to go and not because it was a habit.

Verplanken (2006) describes automaticity as a habitual mindset or psychological experience that is experienced during habitual behaviour. [grammar?] Further, a habit should not be considered as merely behavioural frequency, but as a mental construct which consists of a number of facets; lack of awareness, difficult to control and mental efficiency. [grammar?]These factors being in addition to the experience of repetition (Verplanken, 2006).

What influences habit behaviour[edit | edit source]

A habit may be influenced by a number of variables, [vague] mainly location, presence of particular people or an internal feeling or thought. Smokers, and in particular those trying to quit smoking, will often report environmental stimuli as critical in causing initial lapses[factual?].

Figure 2. Beer[explain?]

Orbell & Verplanken (2010) set out to test the relationship between environmental stimuli and smoking relapses. [what?] Using the modified stroop task,[grammar?] they hypothesized that those with a heavy smoking habit should show a heightened attention bias to habit cues. They found that heavier smokers showed more attentional bias to cues associated with smoking cigarettes than those who weren't heavy smokers. Another study was conducted [grammar?] this time they were measuring whether encountering a cue could elicit the habit behaviour. The cue for this experiment was drinking in a pub, [grammar?] participants took a questionnaire two months before the ban of smoking in public places and a follow up questionnaire five months later. The results showed that 42% of participants reported unintentionally lighting up or nearly lighting up when in the pub. Orbell and Verplanken also concluded that habit strength was associated with units of alcohol consumed. They also found that those who had a higher score on habit strength were also those who reported accidentally lighting up.

Habits and self-control theory[edit | edit source]

[Provide more detail]

Self-contol[edit | edit source]

Self-control is the ability to voluntarily regulate attention, emotion and behaviour towards valued goals. Self-control has been well documented and predicts a number of areas including better academic performance, higher earnings, better physical health, and better social relationships[factual?].

How do people with good self-control manage to stick to their goals? Better self-control is associated with less inhibition of immediately available temptation (Galla & Duckworth, 2015).

“Our virtues are habits as much as our vices”[edit | edit source]

Bad habits are pernicious; they lock people into patterns of maladaptive behaviour despite them knowing better. The same is true for beneficial habits; they are advantageous as they lock people into adaptive patterns of behaviour. Because habits are automatic, beneficial habits and routines can function despite the presence of impediments to goal pursuit. Habits will not be disrupted by lapses of attention, changes in motivation or stress.

Beneficial habits also work against supporting cognition (“do I really need to do this now?”) and justifications (“I can just do it later”) which are used to avoid carrying out goal behaviour (Galla & Duckworth, 2015).

Smoking[edit | edit source]

[Provide more detail]

Habit and smoking[edit | edit source]

Governments have been implementing strategies to reduce the prevalence of smoking.[grammar?] Such strategies include bans on smoking in public places, restrictions on advertising of cigarettes, and an increase on taxation. It is estimated that in the general population 70% of smokers want to quit.

Figure 3. Cigarette[Provide more detail]

One theory by Amritage (2016) focused on the formation of implementation of intentions. Implementations intentions were used because they focus on people's struggles to transform motivation into action. Implementation intentions use "if-then" situations, they work by linking a memory of a critical situation (if) with a ideal response (then).  

An example is linking "being with friends at a party" with a response like "finding a friend who will help me not to smoke". So, when the participant encounters a "being with friends at a party" situation where they would normally smoke, the link will then trigger "finding a friend who will help me not to smoke".  

Implementation intentions can be used as a strategic automatic tool to bring about immediate behaviour change that is efficient and beyond conscious control.  

Habits and goal theories[edit | edit source]

A goal is a desired, anticipated outcome or end state. Goals can be the consequence of physiological needs (thirst or hunger), or it may be other “needs” or motives.[grammar?] This may be restoring personal hygiene, acquiring knowledge, making new friends or getting a degree. When pursuing an unfamiliar goal people are likely to ponder the possible achievement actions before they set out to achieve the goal. However, when a goal is pursued regularly, the need for conscious attention to detail diminishes. When the same actions are chosen regularly to achieve a goal in a satisfactory manner these actions will then become mentally linked to the goal – formation of a habit (Wood & Neal, 2007).

Goal-directed v habitual control of instrumental behaviour[edit | edit source]

What is instrumental behaviour?

Instrumental behaviour is directed at obtaining rewards or pleasant states, as well as avoiding punishment or unpleasant states.

Instrumental behaviour can be controlled by two distinct systems:[factual?]:

  1. Goal-directed system, which involves learning the association between certain action and also the incentive value of the action outcome, and
  2. a habit system, this involves learning the association between stimuli and responses without a link to the outcome.

Initial learning is goal-directed, it is guided by a current incentive and there is knowledge of the causal relationship between the action and the outcome.

As learning progresses, it becomes more habitual, working automatically evoked by triggering stimuli that is independent of the outcome used to establish the behaviour in the first place (Aarts & Dijksterhuis, 2000). 

Drug addiction[edit | edit source]

Choosing to try a drug for the first time is usually voluntary. If the effects of the drug are perceived to be positive, this will then consolidate the behaviour and increase the likelihood of repeated drug-taking. After repeated drug-taking the user may start to lose control of their usage of the drug,[grammar?] and an overwhelming involuntary aspect of continuing the drug will develop. The transformation between voluntary drug use to involuntary can be seen as the transition from goal-directed to habitual action (Schwabe, Dickinson & Wolf, 2011). 

Relapse to a drug addiction can be triggered by cues that are associated with the drug,[grammar?] that is even without the pleasurable anticipation that is associated with earlier drug experiences. Evidence shows that individuals who have a predisposition to attend to drug-related cues have a higher risk of relapsing[factual?]. The power of such drug related cues suggests a strong cue response (habit) relationships have been made (Schwabe, Dickinson & Wolf, 2011).

Habits and healthy eating[edit | edit source]

Every wonder why you haven't been able to stick to that diet? Or why no matter how good your intentions were you still gave into temptation? Well this might be why!

Habitual snacking[edit | edit source]

Many people intend to change their unhealthy behaviours, especially eating bad foods. For most of us it doesn't take much, like smelling that freshly baked cookie, to lose all good intentions and revert back to our old behaviour. So where does it all go wrong?

The first mistake is to assume that one's behaviour results from their conscious goals and plans, rather than considering situational influences such as the sight or smell of tempting food. Research on habits has found that a large part of behaviour will occur automatically and without conscious input.

Most interventions with the aim of decreasing unhealthy food intake focus on educating the person about eating healthily along with motivating them to eat better foods. However, if the behaviour is performed habitually [grammar?] education and increased motivation are not sufficient tools to achieve behaviour change as habitual behaviour is automatic and unconscious (Verhoeven, Adriaanse, Evers & Ridder, 2012).

Nervous habits and habit reversal theory[edit | edit source]

The 1970's[grammar?] saw the development of a number of new behavioural technologies.[grammar?] One of these was work done by Azrin and colleagues who looked at clinical problem of nervous habits. Azrin and colleagues developed a treatment for nervous habits called Habit Reversal. Habit Reversal treatment consisted of a [vague] number of individual treatment components which were implemented together in order to achieve maximum reductions in the targeted habit (Miltenberger, Fuqua & Woods, 1998).

Nervous Habits[edit | edit source]

Nervous habits are habits that include:

  • nail biting
  • hair pulling or twirling
  • thumb or finger sucking (hand-to-head habits)
  • lip, mouth or tongue biting
  • teeth grinding (oral habits)
  • scratching
  • object manipulation

Studies have shown that hand-to-head habits and oral habits are fairly prevalent. Woods, Miltenberger and Flach (1996) found through a survey of college students that 15% reported hair manipulation; 3% reported hair pulling; 10% reported nail biting; 22% reported chewing on their mouth, cheeks or lips; 22% reported manipulating certain objects, mainly, pens, pencils or jewellery; and lastly 5% reported grinding their teeth (Miltenberger, Fuqua & Woods, 1998).

Effects of Nervous Habits[edit | edit source]

Individuals who exhibit nervous habits may also be subject to a [vague] number of physical and social problems. Chronic hair pulling can cause the hair follicle damage, and thumb sucking may result in dental problems and can also lead to the risk of accidental poisoning. Nail biting can cause damage to the tissue in the fingers and dental problems and can also increase the risk of infection.

Friman, McPherson, Warzak and Evans (1993) found that children who exhibited nervous behaviour such as pulling their hair and sucking their thumbs were less likely to be socially accepted (Miltenberger, Fuqua & Woods, 1998).

Cause of Nervous Habits[edit | edit source]

Nervous behaviour refers to habits that occur when an individual is nervous or anxious. However, there is little experimental evidence. An investigation by Woods and Miltenberger (1996) showed that hair and face manipulation were more prevalent in anxiety-provoking situations, whereas object manipulation was more likely to be a result of 'boredom'.

Individuals who chronically pull their hair have reported doing so when triggered by increasing tension and anxiety levels. They also report that the levels of tension and anxiety are subsequently reduced as a result of the hair pulling (Miltenberger, Fuqua & Woods, 1998).

Treatment[edit | edit source]

Individuals who pull their hair may refrain from hair pulling in the presence of researchers. It is then necessary to utilise different assessment procedures that do not involve observation. The habit reversal package consists of four phases:

  1. awareness training
  2. competing response training
  3. motivation procedures
  4. generalisation procedures (Miltenberger, Fuqua & Woods, 1998).

Video games[edit | edit source]

Most people would be able to relate to hearing their mum's yelling at our younger siblings to "get off the Xbox and go and play outside". Video games are becoming increasingly popular.[grammar?] In 2008 68% of households reported having at least one computer or video game console and 30% of Europeans reported playing video games regularly.

If you are not a gamer yourself it can be hard to understand how they could possibly spend so much time playing a game, and every single day.

Gaming is a habit[edit | edit source]

Researchers have to started to explore the fact that maybe playing video games becomes a habit and that this is why they can spend hours on it every day.

User's[grammar?] play video games in a regular routine, and this can therefore develop into a habit. For example, the average school kid would get home from school around 4:00pm. Quite often,their parents won't arrive home from work until 6:00pm or later.[grammar?] To stop the boredom of being home alone most kids will spend the time either online or playing a video game. If this happens every afternoon five days a week it is more than likely to develop into a habit (Hartmann, Jung & Vorderer, 2012).

A video game habit contextual cue, for example a video game console becomes associated with exposure through the act of repetition may in turn trigger exposure. A user may start to play rather mindlessly without deliberate intention. Verplanken and Orbell (2003) claim that habits are controllable to a certain extent,[grammar?] are executed without awareness and are efficient. Individuals may cease to pay conscious attention to their behaviour and playing video games will often resemble mindless behaviour (Hartmann, Jung & Vorderer, 2012).  

Old age and habits[edit | edit source]

[Provide more detail]

Benefits of healthy habits for the elderly[edit | edit source]

Self-management and behavioural change are high health concerns for older adults. Adults of all ages, especially older adults, need to manage drinking, smoking and exercise behaviours. Psychological research has given insights into such challenges.[grammar?] Research by Quinn, Pascoe, Wood, and Neal (2010) concluded that the best self-control strategy[spelling?] was to stop the tendency to act on the habitual response. This is done through vigilant monitoring.[grammar?] This strategy reduces the automaticity to develop a new habit, and the new habit is then repeated in the same context with the same initial cue (Gatz, Smyer & DiGilio, 2016).

Quiz[edit | edit source]

Here are some questions about habits. Choose the correct answers and click "Submit":

1 what is the defining characteristic of a habit?

type of habit
environmental cue for the habit
size of a habit

2 What influences a habit?

environmental cues
depends on the habit
social setting

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Learning about and understanding habits can arm you with a tool to better your life. A deeper understanding of how habits explain certain behaviours, for example smoking or addiction, can be developed through the understanding how a habit is formed and maintained. Although there is some disagreement among theorists as to whether frequency of a behaviour is a good measure, there is one underlying theme which all theories rely on - that a habit is an automatic and unconscious action. Automaticity is the reason behind all of our habitual behaviour - it is why you can't stick to your diet, and it is the reason why you can't quit smoking. However, there are strategies that can be used to break the automaticity and to break bad habits and better one's health. A good 'go to' strategy for breaking a bad habit is the "if" "then" strategy often used for smokers wanting to quit[explain?]. Habits[grammar?] can go two ways, to better your life it can be good to develop good habits such as eating healthy, and it can be good to break bad habits such as smoking. After developing a good understanding of habits the best thing to do is use habits to better your health, lifestyle and well-being,

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Aarts, H., Dijksterhuis, A. (2000) Habits as Knowledge Structures: Automaticity in Goal-Directed Behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78 (1), 53-63

Galla, B. M., & Duckworth, A. L. (2015) More Than Resisting Temptation: Beneficial Habits Mediate the Relationship Between Self-Control and Positive Life Outcomes. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 109, 508-525

Gatz, M., Smyer, M. A. & DiGilio, D. A. (2016) Psychology’s Contribution to the well-being of older Americans. Perspectives from Psychological Science, 257-267

Hartmann, T., Jung, Y., & Vorderer, P. (2012) What determines video game use? The Impact of users habits, addictive tendencies and intentions to play. Journal of Media Psychology, 24(1), 19-30

Ouellette, J. A., & Wood, W. (1998) Habit and intention in Everyday life: The Multiple Processes by which Past Behaviour Predicts Future Behaviour. Psychological Bulletin, 124, 54-74

Schwabe, L., Dickinson, A., & Wolf, O. T. (2011) Stress, Habits, and Drug Addiction: A Psychoneuroendocrinological Perspective. Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology, 19, 53-63

Verhoeven, A. A. C., Adriaanse M. A., Evers, C., & Ridder T.D. (2012). The power of habits: Unhealthy snacking behaviour is primarily predicted by habit strength. British Journal of Health Psychology, 17, 758-770

Verplanken, B. (2006). Beyond Frequency: Habit as a mental construct. British Journal of Social Psychology, 45, 639-656

Verplanken, B., Aarts, H., & Kinppenberg, A. V. (1997) Habit, information acquisition, and the process of making travel mode choices. European Journal of Social Psychology, 27, 539-560

Wood, W., & Neal, D. T. (2007) A New Look at Habits and the Habit-Goal Interface. Psychological Review, 114(4), 843-863