A psychologist writing in the 19th century observed that habits are responsible for much of everyday behavior and advocated that young people form as many valuable habits as possible early in life. The utility of a habit lies in the mechanism by which it directs behavior. A habit is formed when behavior is repeatedly performed in a consistent context. Over many repetitions, mental representations of habitual action are formed that are automatically activated by context cues. Habits permit fluent action, preserve mental capacity for conscious thought, and are resistant to occasions on which resources are diminished by stress or distraction. However, undesired habits benefit from these same characteristics, so that a significant challenge for behavior change concerns mechanisms for undoing undesired habits. This entry considers ...

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