The automatic component of habit in health behavior: habit as cue-contingent automaticity

S Orbell, Bas Verplanken

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

303 Citations (SciVal)


Objective: Habit might be usefully characterized as a form of automaticity that involves the association of a cue and a response. Three studies examined habitual automaticity in regard to different aspects of the cue-response relationship characteristic of unhealthy and healthy habits.

Design, Main Outcome Measures, and Results: In each study, habitual automaticity was assessed by the Self-Report Habit Index (SRHI). In Study 1 SRHI scores correlated with attentional bias to smoking cues in a Stroop task. Study 2 examined the ability of a habit cue to elicit an unwanted habit response. In a prospective field study, habitual automaticity in relation to smoking when drinking alcohol in a licensed public house (pub) predicted the likelihood of cigarette-related action slips 2 months later after smoking in pubs had become illegal. In Study 3 experimental group participants formed an implementation intention to floss in response to a specified situational cue. Habitual automaticity of dental flossing was rapidly enhanced compared to controls.

Conclusion: The studies provided three different demonstrations of the importance of cues in the automatic operation of habits. Habitual automaticity assessed by the SRHI captured aspects of a habit that go beyond mere frequency or consistency of the behavior.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)374-383
Number of pages10
JournalHealth Psychology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2010


  • Stroop task
  • habit
  • smoking
  • self-report habit index
  • implementation intentions


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