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Ben Gardner Habit Summit
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Ben Gardner Habit Summit


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  • 1. What are (healthy) habits anyway? Dr Benjamin Gardner Lecturer in Health Psychology Health Behaviour Research Centre, UCL 30th April 2014
  • 2. Actions that have come to be automatically triggered by situational cues (e.g. Maddux, 1997; Verplanken & Aarts, 1999) 2
  • 3. Defining habit • Learned – through context-dependent repetition (Lally et al, 2010) • Cue-dependent (stimulus-response) • Automatic – Do not require intention – May be initiated without awareness – Are initiated outside of volitional control – Requires little/no effort (Bargh, 1996) 3
  • 4. How do habits form? Lally, van Jaarsveld, Potts & Wardle (2010) • 96 participants – Performed a new healthy eating, drinking or exercise behaviour... – Once a day, every day • Each day, participants reported – automaticity of behaviour (i.e. habit) – whether bhvr performed • Participants tracked over 12 weeks
  • 5. Habit formation Lally, van Jaarsveld et al (2010) • Habit formation best modelled as asymptotic curve
  • 6. Habit formation Lally, van Jaarsveld et al (2010) • Median time for automaticity to plateau = 66 days • Range: 18-254 days • Simpler actions tended to become habitual quicker
  • 7. Knowledge Intention Reasoning Reflective and impulsive routes to behaviour Strack & Deutsch (2004) REFLECTIVE (Associative store) IMPULSIVE Perception of cue Behaviour • Habits are situated on the impulsive route to behaviour
  • 8. Habits narrow attention towards the habitual option Verplanken et al (1997) • Measure of bicycle use habit • Hypothetical task: making an unfamiliar journey • Choose 1 of 4 transport modes (inc bicycle) • Information available on each mode re 6 attributes – e.g. physical effort, probability of delay, travel time – 24 pieces of information available in total 8
  • 9. • Habitual bicycle users: – chose bicycle more frequently (82%) than did non-habit pcpts (50%) – used less information (14.45 pieces) than non-habit users (19.45) • Similar findings for car users, familiar journeys 9 Habits narrow attention towards the habitual option Verplanken et al (1997)
  • 10. Habits make alternatives less accessible Danner, Aarts & de Vries (2007) • Computerised lab task • Participants shown goal-behaviour combinations – e.g. ‘relaxing-television’, ‘writing-computer’ – Combination shown 1x, 3x or 9x • Participants then shown goal, followed by: – either the paired behaviour (e.g. relaxing-television) – or an alternative goal-serving behaviour (relaxing-bath) • How long does it take for participant to recognise the behaviour as appropriate? 10
  • 11. Habits make alternatives less accessible Danner et al (2007) 11
  • 12. Habits and decision-making • Habitual actors – Choose their habitual actions more often – Prior to decision-making: • have less cognitive access to alternatives • use less information on utility of available options • use less information on features of the choice scenario • think less prior to making decisions
  • 13. Process model of habitual choice Verplanken et al (1997)
  • 14. Habits have two main effects on behaviour Triandis (1977) 1. Habits determines behaviour frequency 2. Habits override conscious intentions: - where habit is strong, intentions have weakened impact on behaviour - where habits and intentions conflict, behaviour more likely to be habitual than intentional 14
  • 15. Habits override intentions Gardner (2009) • 105 car users • University staff • Measures: – Intention to commute to campus by car over next week – Habitual car commuting to campus • One week later: – Car use (% journeys to campus done by car)
  • 16. Habits override intentions Gardner (2009) 16 MODERATE HABIT STRONG HABIT
  • 17. Habits persist despite conflicting motives Neal, Wood, Wu & Kurlander (2012) • 105 cinema-goers • Ostensibly a personality study • Watched and rated 15mins of trailers • Given either fresh or stale (1 week old) popcorn • Stale popcorn rated as less pleasant than fresh popcorn
  • 18. Habitual popcorn-eaters will eat stale popcorn Neal et al (2012)
  • 19. Effects of habit on behaviour Gardner, de Bruijn & Lally (2011) • Review of (21) applications of Self-Report Habit Index to diet (14) and physical (in)activity (7) • On average, habits strongly associated with behaviour frequency • 8 of 9 tests showed habit to override intentions in predicting behaviour
  • 20. Problems with traditional views of habit Gardner (in press) • If habit is a form of behaviour, it cannot also be a predictor of behaviour • Habitual behaviours can be inhibited, so are not inevitably enacted • Can we impose a concept rooted in animal learning studies on complex human behaviour?
  • 21. ‘a process by which a stimulus automatically generates an impulse towards action, based on learned stimulus-response associations’ Rethinking habit: a new definition Gardner (in press)
  • 22. Corollaries of this definition • Habit does not activate behaviour, it activates an impulse towards behaviour – Habit impulses are unconscious unless they are frustrated – Habit impulses can be overridden given sufficient skills, resources and mental capacity • Habit is independent of behaviour – When cue is not encountered, habit will not be enacted – A behaviour may not be elicited for some time but can still be habitual – Re-exposure to cues may reactivate ‘dormant habits’
  • 23. Types of habit Gardner (in press) • Habits of decision – Selecting one behavioural option from several – e.g. choosing to have a coffee • Habits of performance – Executing the chosen option – e.g. making the coffee
  • 24. Summary Habits: •Form through repetition (with reward?) •Activate an impulse towards the habitual option •Focus attention on the habitual option and make alternatives less available •Can override conflicting intentions •Come in two forms – Habit of decision – Habit of performance 24
  • 25. Thank you 25