By Force of Habit

  • Bas Verplanken


Many behaviors that matter in the domain of behavioral medicine are habitual. This chapter first focuses on the definition and conceptualization of habit. Contrary to the prevalent practice of equating habit with frequency of past behavior, habit is described here by three key features: frequency of occurrence, automaticity, and the fact that habits are context-cued. Some varieties of habits are discussed, in particular habitual components of complex behaviors, general versus specific habits, and mental habits. The chapter continues by addressing the question of why habits are difficult to break, and in particular why traditional information campaigns often fail to do this. It is also argued that creating new, desirable, habits may explicitly be adopted as an intervention goal. Interventions may be more effective when these are conducted when old habits are (temporarily) broken. Such habit discontinuities occur, for instance, when people go through life course changes. Finally, a number of methods to assess habit strength are reviewed. The Self-Report Habit Index seems the most reliable and valid instrument to date. It is concluded that the habit concept has much to offer to the promotion of healthier lifestyles. Habit theory thus seems a valuable contribution to the behavioral medicine field.


Repetitive Behavior Past Behavior Travel Mode Habit Strength Unhealthy Snack 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of BathBathUK

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