Habit Mechanisms and Behavioural Complexity

  • Barbara MullanEmail author
  • Elizaveta Novoradovskaya


Habitual behaviour encompasses many diverse behaviours ranging from simple ones like tooth brushing to complex ones like healthy eating and physical activity. In this chapter we describe how in order to understand the possible underlying mechanisms (e.g. rational or automatic processes) of behaviour it is important to consider the issue of behavioural complexity. We outline complexity as a combination of two factors: number of steps in the behaviour and the outcome of the behaviour. Thus, habitual behaviours can be considered onestep versus multistep and instant hedonic versus distal benefit behaviours. We synthesize existing research on predictive and prospective studies in these four categories and review the literature that describes relevant interventions, including effective behaviour change techniques we identified. Behaviours considered in this chapter are health related (healthy diet, physical activity, alcohol consumption, flossing, wearing a seatbelt), environmental (active commuting, recycling and water and electricity conservation), and social (use of social media and smartphones, volunteering and voting). We conclude by outlining some of the areas that we think need more research, some ideas for consideration and debate and some visions for future directions.


Habit Behaviour change Health Social Environment Complexity Hedonic Distal-benefit Temporal 



We would like to thank Ashley Slabbert, Hannah McBride, and Caitlin Liddelow who assisted in the preparation of this manuscript.


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Health Psychology and Behavioural Medicine Research Group, Faculty of Health Sciences, School of PsychologyCurtin UniversityPerthAustralia

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