H is for… Habit

The Psychologist A to Z continues.

Suggested by Marco Meissner, a psychologist running a coaching and training business. 

‘I’m fascinated by how much influence habits have on what we do and, thus, who we are. Much of our day we’re all running in autopilot, having some crude, internal gratification-algorithm react on environmental cues – and most of the time we don’t even notice that. Have you ever suddenly stopped, thinking “What was I doing right now?”’

Why is it so hard to kick a smoking habit? In her May 2013 article (and accompanying video), Lynne Dawkins explained how cues closely associated with the primary reinforcer – nicotine – can come to be strongly reinforcing in their own right.

According to the ‘habit discontinuity hypothesis’, behaviour change interventions may be much more effective when people have gone through a major lifestyle change due to which their habits have been discontinued. (See our September 2012 piece on ‘the psychology of sustainable transport’.)

Episode two of our Research Digest podcast PsychCrunch looked at ‘Breaking bad… habits’. Interviewees discussed the ‘Mindbus’ technique, and switching hands to eat less popcorn.

As part of our 2011 feature on ‘the deadly sins’, Christian Jarrett considered sloth in terms of habitual ‘task avoidance’; a view perhaps reflected in our editor’s accompanying online confession…

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