Learning from the past: Establishing an agenda for habit research in health

Dubrovnik – Croatia – 2019 

Conference Venue: Valamar Hotels & Resorts

Facilitators: Benjamin Gardner, Phillippa Lally

Regular fee: €250

Reduced fee: €150 (for all participants working in countries that are ranked low income or lower middle income. For a list of eligible countries click on the following link: worldbank ranking

Click here to apply for this Expert Meeting 

Description: We are witnessing a resurgence of interest in the concept of habit within health psychology (Verplanken, 2018). Habitual behaviour arises from impulses that are automatically cued when people encounter situations in which they have consistently performed the behaviour in the past (Gardner, 2015). As an automatic process, habit is thought to translate into action efficiently, potentially without – or in spite of – intentions. Habit has important implications for understanding and changing behaviour (Gardner & Rebar, in press). Habits persist over time, and so making a health-promoting behaviour habitual may aid long-term maintenance (Rothman, Sheeran & Wood, 2009). Conversely, disrupting persistent health-risk behaviours that are elicited habitually may require a different set of change strategies than discontinuing consciously motivated behaviours (Gardner, Rebar & Lally, in press).

In recent years, important theoretical advances have been made in the understanding of habit and habitual action. For example, although typically portrayed as a type of behaviour, habit has been redefined as a cognitive process, which achieves a necessary conceptual separation between habit and the behaviour that it is proposed to generate (Gardner, 2015a). This allows for the possibility of changing habitual behaviour without changing habit (Gardner, 2015b). Researchers have also moved beyond asking only whether a behaviour may be habitual and have begun to document the multiple ways in which any given behaviour can be generated by habit. A distinction has been drawn between habitual performance of a target behaviour, and habitual engagement in preparatory actions that facilitate or inhibit the target behaviour (Kaushal, Rhodes, Meldrum & Spence, 2017). Others have distinguished between the role of habit in triggering an episode of action (‘habitual instigation’) and in facilitating progression through the sequence of steps required to complete a ‘chunk’ of behaviour (‘habitual execution’; Gardner, Phillips & Judah, 2016; Phillips & Gardner, 2016).

The aim of this Synergy expert meeting is to stimulate discussion around the implications and applications of state-of-the-art habit theory for health psychology research and practice. The objectives are to identify, and ideally achieve consensus around, the most pertinent research questions and strategies for developing and applying habit theory to health psychology domains. We aim to generate a manuscript setting out the research agenda arrived at within the workshop, and to formulate plans for methodologically rigorous research to pursue this agenda and so further understanding of habit and its sequelae within key domains of interest.

SET-UP OF COLLABORATIVE EXPERT MEETING: The workshop thread will largely depend on attendees’ research interests and priorities, and we will ask attendees to each bring at least one research question pertaining to habit to inform initial discussions. Nonetheless, the workshop will address a set of predetermined themes (see below) in the format of a brief presentation of current theory and/or evidence, followed by group discussion focused on priority-setting. The second day of the workshop will focus more heavily on the generation of outputs, which may include the formulation of a research agenda suitable for submission for publication, study proposals and protocols, and funding applications.


Benjamin Gardner, Department of Psychology, King’s College London, London, UK

Phillippa Lally, Department of Behavioural Science and Health, University College London, London, UK

Benjamin Gardner (King’s College London, UK) and Phillippa Lally (University College London, UK) have both extensively researched habit and habitual health behaviour. Their work has focused on defining and measuring habit (Gardner, 2015; Gardner, Abraham, Lally & de Bruijn, 2012), mapping the habit formation process (Lally, Van Jaarsveld, Potts, & Wardle, 2010), predicting and explaining habitual behaviour (Gardner, de Bruijn & Lally, 2011), developing and evaluating habit-based interventions (Lally, Chipperfield, & Wardle, 2008), and generating theory- and evidence-based recommendations for habit-based change (Gardner, Lally & Wardle, 2012; Lally & Gardner, 2013; Gardner, Rebar & Lally, in press).

PROGRAM AND THEMES: Themes will include, but not necessarily be limited to: defining and operationalising ‘habit’ and ‘habitual behaviour’ in conceptually coherent and practically useful ways; identifying the role(s) of habit within key health-related behaviours and broader systems of health behaviours; optimising measures of habit within domains of interest; and developing and evaluating habit-based interventions.

RELEVANCE: Habit is ubiquitous; all familiar behaviours are likely to be facilitated in some way by the habit process (Gardner, Rebar & Lally, under review). Habit is therefore a pertinent topic for any EHPS member interested in understanding or changing behaviour in any way, and the workshop offers the opportunity for in-depth discussions of its pertinence in areas of interest to attendees. The workshop will benefit not only attendees but also non-attending society members, via the generation of a research agenda for further developing theory, methods and applications of habit to health psychology.


Gardner, B. (2015) A review and analysis of the use of ‘habit’ in understanding, predicting and influencing health-related behaviour. Health Psychology Review, 9, 277-295. doi: 10.1080/17437199.2013.876238.

Gardner, B., Phillips, L.A., & Judah, G. (2016) Habitual instigation and habitual execution: Definition, measurement, and effects on behaviour frequency. British Journal of Health Psychology, 3, 613-630. doi: 10.1111/bjhp.12189

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, 998–1009. doi:10.1002/ejsp.674.

Verplanken, B. (Ed., 2018) The Psychology of Habit: Theory, mechanisms, change, and contexts. Berlin: Springer-Verlag.

For further information please contact: synergy@ehps.net