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Defining and measuring habit
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Habits are behavioral tendencies to repeat a well-learned response in a stable context with only minimal or sporadic cognitive monitoring. With repeated performance in a given context, the actor develops a cognitive association between contextual features and the behavior those features trigger. The importance of understanding habitual behavior is suggested by recent research on self-regulation, which holds that a large proportion of actions in daily life are performed with little deliberative thought and may be habitual. If the mechanisms for initiating and performing habits and non-habits differ, social psychological models of behavior prediction and change will need to be modified to reflect the differences between these modes of performance. To identify habits, previous research has relied upon measures of past behavior frequency. These studies have been unable to differentiate between habits and frequently performed behavior that is thoughtful and deliberate. Thoughtful initiation and performance is necessary, even for well-practiced acts, when contexts are unstable. The present research uses participants' reports of their thoughts during performance of habits and non-habits to demonstrate that habitual performance emerges in stable contexts with well-practiced behaviors. The present research used a diary methodology to investigate habits and non-habits in everyday life. Two hundred nine participants made hourly reports of their behaviors, thoughts, and feelings over two days. Participants rated, for each behavior they reported, frequency of past performance and contextual stability. Habits were operationalized as behaviors performed almost every day and usually in the same location. Behaviors not meeting this definition were considered non-habits. We predicted that habits would be less likely than non-habits to require the actor to think about his or her behavior during performance. While performing habits, but not non-habits, participants would be free to think about issues unrelated to their behavior. Our results support these predictions. While performing habitual behaviors, participants' thoughts were relatively unlikely to correspond to their behavior. In contrast while performing non-habitual behaviors, participants were more likely to think consciously about their behavior than other issues. The present research also examines the affective experiences associated with habits and non-habits, as well as participants' implicit theories of habit.
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Includes bibliographical references (leaves 47-50).
Issued also on microfiche from Lange Micrographics.
Quinn, Jeffrey M. (2001). Defining and measuring habit. Master's thesis, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from
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