Habits are an important mechanism by which organisms can automate the control of behavior to alleviate cognitive demand. However, transitions to habitual control are risky because they lead to inflexible responding in the face of change. The question of how the brain controls transitions into habit is thus an intriguing one. How do we regulate when our repeated actions become automated? When is it advantageous or disadvantageous to release actions from cognitive control? Decades of research have identified a variety of methods for eliciting habitual responding in animal models. Progress has also been made to understand which brain areas and neural circuits control transitions into habit. Here, I discuss existing research on behavioral and neural circuit models for habit formation (with an emphasis on striatal circuits), and discuss strategies for combining information from different paradigms and levels of analysis to prompt further progress in the field.
Keywords: dopamine; goal-directed behavior; habit; striatum.
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