Jager_habits_chapter_2003 - Breaking bad habits: a...

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Breaking ‘bad habits’: a dynamical perspective on habit formation and change Jager, W. (2003) Breaking ’bad habits’: a dynamical perspective on habit formation and change. in: L. Hendrickx, W. Jager, L. Steg, (Eds.) Human Decision Making and Environmental Perception. Understanding and Assisting Human Decision Making in Real-life Settings. Liber Amicorum for Charles Vlek. Groningen: University of Groningen. Wander Jager 1 1 Faculty of Management and Organization University of Groningen Landleven 5 9700 AV Groningen, the Netherlands w.jager@bdk.rug.nl Abstract. Much of our daily behaviour is habitual. Habits are defined as behaviours that are performed with a minimum of cognitive effort. Habits allow for an effective use of our limited cognitive capacities. However, due to this automatising of behaviour, habits are less susceptible for change than reasoned behaviour. Especially when a habit provides positive outcomes in the present but detrimental outcomes on the long run, one can speak of a ‘bad habit’. Such ‘bad habits’ are hard to change because cognitive information on negative outcomes will hardly affect the automatised behavioural scripts. This chapter describes the emergence of habits from a dynamical perspective. This implies that a perspective is drawn on what type of processes play a role at what stage in the development of a habit. This dynamical perspective provides indications for effective strategies to break habits. 1: habitual behaviour Much of our behaviour takes the shape of repetitive actions: in the supermarket we grab our usual brand of coffee, we may follow a specific route in travelling to our work and we drink coffee in the morning. All these behaviours have in common that they are being performed with a minimum of thinking. Behaviours as such, where actions are repeatedly being performed without deliberating too much, can be grouped under the concept of habits. Habits have been demonstrated empirically to strongly determine the behaviour of people in relative stable situations, e.g. modality choice in transportation (e.g., Bamberg & Schmidt, 2003; Gärling, Fujii & Boe, 2001; Aarts & Dijksterhuis, 2000; Aarts, Verplanken & Knippenberg, 1998) Although one may be very conscious about performing the habit, e.g., preparing coffee in the morning, the actual performance of the habit may involve very
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little thinking. This is because the actual behaviour has been automatised to a large extent. Habits have large benefits for our performance in daily life: instead of thinking about routine decision problems we keep our minds free to think about issues that are not routine like (e.g., Posner & Snyder, 1975; Schneider & Shiffrin, 1977; Shiffrin & Schneider, 1977; Baumeister, Bratslavsky, Muraven & Tice, 1998). Hence, habits are mechanisms that allow us to efficiently allocate our limited cognitive capabilities. As such, the use of habits can be listed under the heading of procedural rationality, which has been coined by Simon (1976) as opposed to substantive rationality that is
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Jager_habits_chapter_2003 - Breaking bad habits: a...

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