Motivation and emotion/Book/2018/Behavioural automaticity

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Behavioural automaticity:
What are the pros and cons of behavioural automaticity?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Behavioural automaticity, as a component of psychological research, still holds some mystery. It is a topic that has caused some recent research, as researchers try to understand the influence behind unconscious and conscious decision making. Behavioural automaticity is mainly refereed[spelling?] to as a significant component of what we call habit. Many of us have good and bad habits, behavioural automaticity makes up a important component of this habits[grammar?]. In a way behavioural automaticity leads to the brain reducing mental effort in areas that are already familiar, however this can mean missing out on new information presented in familiar contexts. Understanding behavioural automaticity means understanding how to mould unconscious behaviour. Moulding unconscious behaviour could lead to increasing quality of life, and avoiding potential dangers for when the brain switches off during familiar activities. Understanding behavioural automaticity allows us to understand its pros and its cons. The pros of unconscious automatic behaviour could be learning to mould more effective physical behaviour habits in day to day lives. Understanding the cons of unconscious automatic behaviour means potentially avoiding dangerous behaviours, such as the brain "switching off" during familiar driving patterns. This chapter discusses behavioural automaticity so that it may be better understood and its pros and cons established, with practical take-home messages to help improve our lives.

What is behavioural automaticity?[edit | edit source]

The majority of research into behavioural automaticity, as[spelling?] been performed with the goal of gaining a better understanding of motivation towards physical activity and improving health[factual?]. Behavioural automaticity is often a key component in motivation and habit forming in the performance of physical activity, however its usefulness does not stop here. Behavioural automaticity holds importance and application in many areas outside of improving health and physical activity. Behavioural automaticity plays a role in decisions or non-decisions made during day to day activities. A simple description of behavioural automaticity is a behaviour occurring automatically without conscious decision, influenced by environmental context. Behaviour occurs constantly without conscious decision. As an example, why do we not often remember the details from the same drive to work every day? Why if someone asks us "how are you?", do we reply with a generic response such as "good", without thinking?

Understanding Behavioural automaticity has a lot of value and dangers in its presence in the world, however a better understanding of the topic could lead to more effective application in everyday behaviours and the improvement of quality of life, as well as assessing how to mould it to prevent its potential danger in day to day activities.

Behavioural automaticity in habit[edit | edit source]

It is important to dictate the importance of behavioural automaticity in habit. Behavioural automaticity and habit will be discussed together, as behavioural automaticity plays such a significant role in habitual behaviour (Verplanken, B., & Aarts, H.1999). A significant part of this topic will cover behavioural automaticity's role in habit, because habit is arguably, where it is most commonly applied. Behavioural automaticity in habit can be applied to many areas in day to day life. Understanding behavioural automaticity is important due to its application in moulding habitual behaviour; if habit can be moulded to our needs and to our liking, than[grammar?] it can be applied effectively in many situations to improve our quality of life. Habits make up a significant part of our life, positive and negative, however if we could make those habits positive more often, this would [missing something?] ideal for the improvement of daily life (Gardner, 2012).

Habitual behaviours are immediately acted upon, often regardless of motivational influences or deliberate decisions. Habits are formed by initiating a behaviour in a particular context, which makes it more likely to initiate the same behaviour in the same context; this means that this action is transferred from deliberate decision and action taking to an automatic response system (Gardner, 2012). In the past habits have been described as habit is defined by frequency[Rewrite to improve clarity], however this does not account for frequent behaviours attributed to both deliberate and non deliberate actions. If habit can be described as automatic behaviour coupled with frequency it can lead to a better understanding and then more appropriate and more effective application. Training habit with a better understanding of behavioural automaticity can lead to better real world applications of habit training. Habit training, in this context, refers to the ability to train ones[grammar?] habits or behavioural automaticity in way that leads to a better quality of life (e.g., habitually training an overweight individual interested in losing weight to automatically choose to eat healthy food over unhealthy food; automatically meaning without a deliberate decision to eat said healthy food) (Gardner, 2012).

What are the implications of behavioural automaticity?[edit | edit source]

Recent studies have shown that frequently repeated exercise behaviour in response to a single daily cue, initiated improved exercise and weight loss behaviours. Understanding behavioural automacity's role in habit forming behaviours could help us create habits that positively affect our quality of life. Habit is the combination of frequency and behavioural automaticity; understanding behavioural automaticity in habit is key, Gardner mentions that behavioural automaticity makes up the main component of habit, whereas frequency is the less important component. The reason being is that, depending on context, frequency can change, but habitual response can still be evident. For instance, a church goer stating "amen" at the end of a prayer, is likely to occur for those who attend church every week and also for those who only attend church once a year (Gardner, 2012). Frequency is a component to habit, however behavioural automaticity is the key component and should be the focus of research for habitual responses. Lally states that habit makes up 40% of daily activities, this means that understanding habit and its components is very important when trying to understanding how to improve daily life (Lally, 2010).

Positive and negative effects of behavioural automaticity[edit | edit source]

[Provide more detail]

Physical exercise[edit | edit source]

Behavioural automaticity can effectively function as a motivational tool, if moulded correctly. Behavioural automaticity functions as unconscious decision making influenced by particular contexts (Gardner, 2012). Researchers have been trying to understand the influence that behavioural automaticity has on behaviour, such as physical activity. In this sense, behavioural automaticity influences motivated behaviour, given that if habitual behaviour can be moulded, motivation for particular behaviours can be found more easily if those actions are taken automatically. The idea of behavioural automaticity is that these are decisions that are made with little or not conscious influence, now imagine if physical activity could be performed, without conscious decision? Moulding behavioural automaticity and learning how to use it, to influence positive life changes could [missing something?] very important given worldwide health issues. According to the World Health Organisation (2014), 3.2 million people die due to lack of physical activity every year. Consistent physical exercise can be most easily maintained by creating habitual behaviours (Yara Rietdijk, 2014). Rietdijk found that behavioural automaticity influences physical activity in two ways: "firstly via reinforcement of personal beliefs and secondly via the positive association between context and the satisfying behaviour" (Yara Rietdijk, 2014). Rietdijk's research also goes on to explain that behavioural automaticity is influences[grammar?] behavioural regulation, intention and self reflective behaviour. All of this, combined with the clear need for an improvement in physical activity, due to the yearly death toll, is a clear indicator that habitual behaviour needs to be researched more, and better understood in order to combat these figures.

Pfeffer and Strobach mention the role of behavioural automaticity in habit forming towards physical activity (Pfeffer & Strobarch, 2018). Pfeffer and Strobarch argue that trait self-control, which is stated as ones[grammar?] ability to exert effort in making a decision (e.g., when one feels fatigued and chooses to continue exercising), coupled with behavioural automaticity, is effective at determining ones[grammar?] ability to consistently perform physical activity. Research such as this is further reinforcing the importance of understanding and researching behavioural automaticity. Understanding how to better motivate individuals to perform physical activity, is an important aspect in improving quality of life and fighting health issues such as obesity (Pfeffer & Strobarch, 2018). This study does dictate that control was a more important factor in determining behaviour towards physical activity, however behavioural automaticity only being a partial predictor of behaviour is still important[Rewrite to improve clarity].

Research mainly discusses the negative implications of behavioural automaticity, In the same way this data can be used to discuss the positive aspects of behavioural automaticity[Rewrite to improve clarity]. While there are many people that[grammar?] struggle to continue with physical activity, there are many that excel, and for some reason their brains are inclined to, in a sense "use" behavioural automaticity in an effective way. Pfeffer discusses the contrast between trait self-control and behavioural automaticity. Pfeffer describes trait self control as ones[grammar?] ability to effortlessly exert self-control activity (Pfeffer & Strobarch, 2018). In this context, behavioural automaticity sits between trait self-control and engaged behaviour, for instance: An individual has arrived at a fitness facility. They feel tired and are considering whether or not they should just go home. This is where trait self-control initially comes in to play. If the individual can exercise the will to perform physical activity, even if they don't want to, behavioural automaticity will then make this decision easier or harder. If they exercise, this behaviour of deciding to perform physical activity regardless of whether or not they are tired, will further reinforce behavioural automaticity and then then the engaged behaviour begins. In this kind of scenario, trait self-control is contrasted with behavioural automaticity, and behavioural automaticity influences whether or not the desired or undesired activity is going to be engaged in (Pfeffer & Strobarch, 2018). Pfeffer concluded that, while trait self-control was a more significant indicator as to whether this activity would be engaged in, behavioural automaticity is a component. So, while understanding trait self-control may be important, behavioural automaticity, in this context, is the focus. If an individual can reinforce the behavioural automaticity, then it becomes a stronger mediator towards trait self-control and the behaviour is more likely to be engaged in activity[say what?] (Pfeffer & Strobarch, 2018).

So how can this be positive? Behavioural automaticity becomes positive in this instance for its ability to compel undesirable activities, while battling with other motivators. It becomes positive because there are other motivators and variables that are going to decide whether or not a decision is made or an action is taken. Behavioural automaticity is a constant, in many human behaviours, because even if a conscious decision is being made, the unconscious brain is going to wrestle with the outcome. Behavioural automaticity acts as the unconscious brain in decision making; if it can be reinforced it can unconsciously used to make positive decisions in the face of influences that may try and negate this.

Driving[edit | edit source]

There are significant risks to be considered when looking at the outcomes of behavioural automaticity. When behaviours become inherently automatic, or habitual, they can possibly become indirectly dangerous. Behavioural automaticity will not likely cause one to engage in a dangerous behaviour, unless that behaviour has been reinforced in the appropriate contexts; however it may make one comfortable enough in a common daily exercise or routine, such as driving to work, that they make not pay attention to potentially harmful changes in their environment. As an example, the behavioural automaticity component of habit means that your brain slips into a sort of inattention blindness. Actions such as driving the same route regularly, turn into actions that become so incredibly proficient that they could become dangerous (Charlton & Starkey, 2013). An example that was found by Charlton and Starkey is that more experienced drivers are less likely to notice important streets signs, this is a clear indication that an experienced driver could potentially be putting themselves in danger, due to this inattention, arguably caused by behavioural automaticity. An "experienced" driver in this context, could be described as someone who is under the influence of behavioural automaticity in this instance, with Borowsky, Shinar, and Oron-Gilad describing this as "this form of selective looking has been proposed to result from the development of well-learned schemata for scanning the roadway which guide experienced drivers’ search for task relevant information" (Borowsky, Shinar, & Oron-Gilad, 2010). This form of scanning the road for task relevant information, is likely a behaviour that has been reinforced by long period of experience and exposure to the same behaviour, which could be described as a habit. The component of this habit that has developed the scanning behaviour in such a particular way, could be described as behavioural automaticity. The same research found that if experienced drivers were exposed to the same route in a regular basis, there was a reduction in the driving difficulty and mental workload; however when the route was changed driving difficulty and mental workload was increased. This evidence shows that when drivers are commuting on the regular drive to work, the decrease in mental workload could lead to potential inattention, which could then lead to the overlooking of incoming dangers (Charlton & Starkey, 2013). Behavioural automaticity could be positive in this instance, potentially allowing us to remember routes subconsciously, given that reduced brain power is used during familiar behaviours, however this would need to be further researched.

Autobahn - panoramio (8)
Driving is an example of how behavioural automaticity can potentially lead to dangerous outcomes.


===Smoking==- Smoking is a clear example of how behavioural automaticity can assist in the development of unhealthy behaviours. During behavioural automatic behaviours, very little brain power is used (Charlton & Starkey, 2013). One qualifiers[say what?] for whether or not behavioural automaticity is being applied, is whether or not behaviour continues without the significant use of the brains resources (Field, M., Mogg, K., & Bradley, B. P. 2006). The research done by Field, M shows that behavioural automaticity can be a bad thing. Given that the research shows us that in experienced smokers (represented by if the individual had smoked more than 800 cigarettes during their lifetime), brain resources being used for the action of smoking, were greatly reduced, giving us a clear indicator that the effects of behavioural automaticity were present here (Field, M., Mogg, K., & Bradley, B. P. 2006). There are arguably no positive affects[grammar?] to smoking and this behaviour being reinforced by behavioural automaticity.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Behavioural automaticity presents both pros and cons. There are some areas of research that have been done into behavioural automaticity that hold a great deal of information, with topics such as physical exercise and driving. These topics are useful however given behavioural automaticity's affect on our day to day lives, more research needs to be done into more areas in order to understand this topic better. Habit makes up just less than half of our decision making in our day to day lives, with behavioural automaticity being a component of this, less research means lacking understanding in something we utilise frequently[Rewrite to improve clarity]. A better understanding of behavioural automaticity could lead to greatly improved quality of life. Understanding and moulding behavioural automaticity means creating more effective physical exercise habits, potentially reducing inattention while driving and understanding the behaviours behind smoking, which ultimately could lead to helping those who want to quit. Behavioural automaticity is a very useful tool for the human brain, more research needs to be performed in order to understand and utilise this tool more effectively.

Quiz[edit | edit source]

Here are some example quiz questions - choose the correct answers and click "Submit":

What is a simple description of behavioural automaticity?

A behaviour occurring automatically without conscious decision, influenced by environmental context.
Automatic behaviour.
When a car runs automatically.
Unconscious behaviour.

How much of our day to day activities are made up of habit?


Which of the following is a positive effect of behavioural automaticity:

Reinforcing the behaviour of smoking on a regular basis.
"Switching off" brain resources while driving familiar roads.
Reinforcing the behaviour of performing physical exercise on a regular basis.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Physical activity. (website WHO), vistited 18 October 2018. Retrieved from

External links[edit | edit source]