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Habitual behaviors are initiated automatically in response to situations in which they have been repeatedly performed in the past. Making a desired behavior habitual is thought to shield it against lapses due to low motivation, while disrupting habitual performance of undesired behaviors may aid cessation. This chapter outlines how developing new cue-behavior associations so that a habit can form may disrupt unwanted habitual actions. The strategies are suggested: avoiding cues, inhibiting responses to cues, or learning new habit associations to displace old ones. Forming a new habit requires sustained motivation and ability to initiate and maintain change as new associations form. Among those willing to change, behavior change techniques that promote action control (e.g., action planning, goal setting, using prompts and cues) may particularly facilitate habit formation. Purposeful habit disruption, requires motivation but is also facilitated by identifying triggers and either avoiding them or planning alternative responses. Habit change can be facilitated or obstructed by characteristics of the target behavior, situation, or actor. For example, behaviors that are easier to perform and driven by intrinsic motives rather than external pressure are likely to rapidly become habitual. Evaluations of habit interventions suggest that they are typically acceptable to recipients and show potential in achieving meaningful behavior change.
Misperception of social norms may result in normalising unhealthy behaviours. The present study tested the hypothesis that parents overestimate both the frequency of unhealthy snacking in pre-school children other than their own (descriptive norms) and its acceptability to other parents (injunctive norms).
A cross-sectional, self-report community survey. Questions assessed the frequency with which respondents’ own child ate unhealthy snacks and their beliefs about the appropriate frequency for children to snack. Perceived descriptive norms were assessed by asking parents to estimate how often other 2–4 year-old children in their area ate snacks. Perceived injunctive norms were assessed by asking them about other parents’ beliefs regarding the appropriate frequency for snacks. Misperceptions were assessed from (i) the difference between the prevalence of daily snacking and parents’ perceived prevalence and (ii) the difference between acceptability of daily snacking and parents’ beliefs about its acceptability to others.
Pre-schools and children's centres in one borough of London, UK.
Parents (n 432) of children age 2–4 years.
On average, parents believed that more than half of ‘other’ children had snacks at least daily, while prevalence data indicated this occurred in only 10 % of families. The same discrepancy was observed for perceived injunctive norms: parents overestimated other parents’ acceptance of frequent snacking, with two-thirds of parents having a self v. others discrepancy.
Misperceptions were identified for descriptive and injunctive norms for children's snacking. Accurate information could create less permissive norms and motivate parents to limit their child's intake of unhealthy snacks.
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