Understanding the Formation of Human Habits: An Analysis of Mechanisms of Habitual Behaviour

  • Hans MarienEmail author
  • Ruud Custers
  • Henk Aarts


In this chapter, we address the mechanisms of habit to promote a better understanding and examination of how habits are learned and maintained in humans. Because habits are often conceived of as automated behaviours resulting from learning and practice, we start with the typical features that represent automatic processes. Next, we discuss how habitual mechanisms might evolve in human action, starting from automatic stimulus response behaviour to automatic execution of routines or habitual skills that are conditional of the presence of desired goals. We particularly address how the preparation, selection and execution of habitually performed behaviour (i.e. the well-trained sensorimotor processes that render human interaction with the environment possible) relies on the capacity to represent actions in terms of their effects, and how activating these effect representations controls the associated behaviour. Then, we discuss the mechanisms of habit from a motivational perspective to understand how motivation plays a role in in habitual behaviour. We conclude this chapter with a set of future directions that may challenge the understanding of the mechanisms of habits.


Ideomotor learning Pavlovian-instrumental transfer Reward Skills Goal-dependent habits 


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUtrecht UniversityUtrechtThe Netherlands

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