Habit Research Review for March
by Steven M. Ledbetter
3 minute read
There is a small revolt going on in the world of willpower research. Baumeister’s dominant “resource-limited” or “strength-model” of willpower has come under some hard meta-analysis in the past 4 years. Chief among them is Robinson, Schmeichel, & Inzlicht (2010) meta-analysis of neuroscience involving the function of certain parts of the brain. Their theory, called “Cognitive Control” basically states that depletion can be understood as depletions simply on task motivation, not willpower as a whole. As more scientists study this possible explanation, they will need to consider the considerable body of work that Baumeister’s lab has put out, but more scientists are looking to the “cognitive control” theory to explain some of the gaps in the current model, such as Dang, Dewitte, Mao, Xiao, & Shi (2013).
Dang, J., Dewitte, S., Mao, L., Xiao, S., & Shi, Y. (2013). Adapting to an initial self-regulatory task cancels the ego depletion effect. Consciousness and Cognition, 22(3), 816–821. doi:10.1016/j.concog.2013.05.005
Robinson, M. D., Schmeichel, B. J., & Inzlicht, M. (2010). A Cognitive Control Perspective of Self-Control Strength and Its Depletion. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 4(3), 189–200. doi:10.1111/j.1751-9004.2009.00244.x
James Clear and I were discussing a vocabulary problem inherent in the discussion of habit-based coaching and behavior change. James and I agreed that most of the time when people say, “habit” they mean “routine.” By definition, a habit is automatic and happens below the level of consciousness, and little did we know that Gardner, one of the most respected researchers in health psychology would be publishing an article on just these very problems. In this review, Gardner explores what we really mean by “habit” and what we can do to define habit in a more useful way, scientifically. I recommend this article as an exploration of the scientific language, as well as our own. As Phil Caravaggio of Precision Nutrition has pointed out on twitter this month, “the word habit is overrated” and this research review is a great place to help define terms and avoid running into the problem of telling people, “I don’t think that word means what you think it means.”
Gardner, B. (2014). A review and analysis of the use of “habit” in understanding, predicting and influencing health-related behaviour. Health Psychology Review, 1–19. doi:10.1080/17437199.2013.876238
The last 10 years of Self-Determination Theory research has centered around a simple concept. There is a continuum of motivation ranked by quality, with some forms of motivation being more conducive to basic psychological needs, and therefore more sustainable, than others. But what if motivation quality wasn’t a continuum? According to a meta-analysis by Emanuela Chemolli and Marylène Gagné, there is much evidence that motivation is multivariate, but there isn’t much evidence that it is a continuum. That means that studies which blobbed together all the “self-determined” motivations and all the “non-self-determined” motivations into “Relative Autonomy Indexes” (which is most of them) might have at worst drawn misleading conclusions, or at best flattened the richness of SDTs multidimensional concepts of why people do what they do. This study has a lot of potential to shake up motivation research, but even if the conclusions aren’t borne out in other meta-analyses, it serves as an excellent reminder of how complex and numerous our motivations can be. Worth reading if you are a data wonk, and worth keeping an eye on if you are using self-determination theory based tools like me.
Chemolli, E., & Gagné, M. (2014, March 10). Evidence Against the Continuum Structure Underlying Motivation Measures Derived From Self-Determination Theory. Psychological Assessment. Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0036212