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Is habitual behavior dependent on the stability of the situation in which it originated?

Franklin O Carvajal, University of Massachusetts Amherst


The study investigated the effects of changes in environmental cues on habitual behaviors. In the first stage, the researcher developed a procedure to form a habit based on past theoretical formulations. Participants sorted title pages containing the word attitude into a blue box and those containing the word habit into a red box until they were able to do so quickly. In the second stage, the disruptive effects of cognitive load (counting backwards in twos), changes in goal-relevant environmental cues (i.e., cues that are necessary to achieve a goal) and changes in goal-irrelevant environmental cues (i.e., cues that are not necessary to achieve a goal) on the habit formed in the first stage were examined. Changes in goal-relevant cues had a disruptive effect on habit while changes in goal-irrelevant cues did not. Cognitive load also disrupted habit. However, it was the joint effect of changes in goal-relevant cues and cognitive load that caused the greatest disruption. It is concluded that habits should be conceptualized as mindless skills guided by slightly controlled processes.

Subject Area

Social psychology|Personality|Psychotherapy

Recommended Citation

Carvajal, Franklin O, "Is habitual behavior dependent on the stability of the situation in which it originated?" (2002). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3068545.