Implementation Intentions - Can the Brain Strategically Generate Instant Habits?

Summary

Bad habits are hard to break. Merely formulating a goal (e.g., ?I intend to eat more fruit?) is generally insufficient to change behaviour. How then can we help people to act on their good intentions and achieve healthier behaviours? ?Implementation intentions? ? i.e., concrete plans concerning the situation in which the intended behaviour should occur ? have been shown to enhance the probability of success (e.g., ?When I have lunch at work, I will eat an apple?). To further improve this type of intervention it is necessary to gain insight into the mechanisms underlying its effectiveness. The main aim of the proposed research is to conduct the first investigation of the hypothesis that implementation intentions facilitate an intended change in behavior by generating ?instant habits?. According to this hypothesis, the cognitive formation of a S-R association between a situation and the intended behaviour leads to the automatic activation of this behaviour upon encountering that situation (e.g., lunch at workapple). As a result, implementation intentions are hypothesised to alleviate the need for effortful, goal-directed control. If this is indeed the case, implementation intentions should share with habits the characteristic of inflexibility. This prediction will be tested with novel well-controlled experimental paradigms. Performance on those paradigms will subsequently be related to measures of brain activity and integrity (i.e., functional and structural magnetic resonance imaging), to enhance our currently limited understanding of the neural basis of intentional control over habits. Finally, I will conduct the first ever neuroimaging investigation into the breaking of real-life habits. This research into the neural mechanisms underlying our ability to break the chains of past habits will shed light on why some people are more successful at achieving behavioural change than others, and will provide the basis for improvement (and possibly individual tailoring) of existing implementation intention interventions.

Products

Scientific article

Thesis

  • Beoogd: Proefschrift

Details

Project number

452-13-006

Main applicant

Dr. S. de Wit

Affiliated with

Universiteit van Amsterdam, Faculteit der Maatschappij- en Gedragswetenschappen, Psychologie

Team members

S.L. Knot, Dr. A.A.C. Verhoeven, A.J.B. Watson, Dr. S. de Wit, C.L. Zomer MSc

Duration

01/02/2015 to 31/01/2020