A review and analysis of the use of 'habit' in understanding, predicting and influencing health-related behaviour

Health Psychol Rev. 2015;9(3):277-95. doi: 10.1080/17437199.2013.876238. Epub 2014 Jan 21.


The term 'habit' is widely used to predict and explain behaviour. This paper examines use of the term in the context of health-related behaviour, and explores how the concept might be made more useful. A narrative review is presented, drawing on a scoping review of 136 empirical studies and 8 literature reviews undertaken to document usage of the term 'habit', and methods to measure it. A coherent definition of 'habit', and proposals for improved methods for studying it, were derived from findings. Definitions of 'habit' have varied in ways that are often implicit and not coherently linked with an underlying theory. A definition is proposed whereby habit is a process by which a stimulus generates an impulse to act as a result of a learned stimulus-response association. Habit-generated impulses may compete or combine with impulses and inhibitions arising from other sources, including conscious decision-making, to influence responses, and need not generate behaviour. Most research on habit is based on correlational studies using self-report measures. Adopting a coherent definition of 'habit', and a wider range of paradigms, designs and measures to study it, may accelerate progress in habit theory and application.

Keywords: automaticity; behaviour change; habit; review; study design.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Habits*
  • Health Behavior*
  • Humans
  • Self Report*
  • Social Behavior