Associative learning, habit, and health behavior

William A. Hunt, Joseph Matarazzo, Stephen M. Weiss, W. Doyle Gentry

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

24 Scopus citations


Habit is defined as a firmly established behavior pattern marked by increasing automaticity, decreasing awareness, and partial independence from reinforcement. Reinforcement is viewed as of primary importance in the acquisition of behavior, whereas principles of associative learning enter to complement reinforcement in the maintenance of behavior. Habit is seen as a mechanism for short-circuiting the reinforcement process to avoid its overload and for providing the organism with speed and stability of response instead of the variability offered by reinforcement. The implications of this definition of habit for acquisition and alteration of health behavior are discussed; examples include smoking, obesity, alcoholism, and coronary-prone (type A) behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)111-124
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Behavioral Medicine
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 1979



  • associative learning
  • habit
  • health behavior
  • reinforcement

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychology(all)

Cite this

Hunt, W. A., Matarazzo, J., Weiss, S. M., & Gentry, W. D. (1979). Associative learning, habit, and health behavior. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 2(2), 111-124.