Edev_502 response wk4_3

Thanks for your interesting summary of habit formation. I agree with you about the need for a consistent environment in education to promote better learning habits. However, after reading more about what Gillan (2014) has to say about the source of habits, I feel that I need to reconsider my own position on this.

She and her colleagues (Gillan, Otto, Phelps, & Daw, 2015) contend that model-based learning (i.e. repeated action) is more powerful than model-free (i.e. goal-directed). This accords with Wood and Neal (2007) whose claim that eventually “habit associations do not involve the mediation of goals” (p. 849). Is there, therefore, an argument that teachers should enforce desired actions without necessarily considering rewards or even cues and contexts? If habits can be made to form through teacher insistence, perhaps forcing actions is a more secure pedagogic strategy. However, I baulk at that idea as it introduces many anti-humanistic problematic issues into the classroom, and it seems to be less constructivist than behaviourist. Finally on this point, if Lally et al. (2010) are correct, teachers need 80+ days in which to inculcate habits. My own classes are once-a-week for 15 weeks, meaning that I can never achieve habit formation.

Soon et al. (Soon, Brass, Heinze, & Haynes, 2008) provide evidence to answer Gillan’s question about which came first, thought or actions. They show that the awareness of decisions comes much later than the brain’s ‘decision’ to take it: “

“the outcome of a decision can be encoded in brain activity of prefrontal and parietal cortex up to 10 s before it enters awareness” (Soon, Brass, Heinze & Haynes, 2008, p. 543)

opening up a whole can of worms about the situation of being and the locus of control in humans.


Gillan, C. (2014). Why can’t I stop?. New Scientist, 223(2980), 28-29.

Gillan, C. M., Otto, A. R., Phelps, E. A., & Daw, N. D. (2015). Model-based learning protects against forming habits. Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience. http://doi.org/10.3758/s13415-015-0347-6

Lally, P., van Jaarsveld, C. H. M., Potts, H. W. W., & Wardle, J. (2010). How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world.European Journal of Social Psychology, 40(6), 998–1009.

Soon, C. S., Brass, M., Heinze, H.-J., & Haynes, J.-D. (2008). Unconscious determinants of free decisions in the human brain. Nature Neuroscience, 11(5), 543–545. http://doi.org/10.1038/nn.2112

Wood, W., & Neal, D. T. (2007). A New Look at Habits and the Habit – Goal Interface, 114(4), 843–863. http://doi.org/10.1037/0033-295X.114.4.843



About theCaledonian

Scot living in north Japan teaching at a national university.
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