Presentation Title

Habit Formation in Behavior Chains: A Comparative Evaluation

Presenter's Name(s)

Catherine R. Thorpe, UVMFollow

Project Collaborators

Eric Thrailkill (Thesis Mentor), Mark Bouton (Faculty Mentor)

Abstract

Unhealthy personal behaviors contribute to premature deaths and financial burden on health systems. Contemporary theories suggest that behavior reflects two processes; one goal-directed defined by sensitivity to changes in the value of its outcome, and another habitual and insensitive to changes in outcome value. Another important aspect is that behavior occurs in sequences, or chains, of responses that are each required to receive the reinforcing outcome. Laboratory studies with rats suggest that, in a two-response chain (R1 then R2), performing the second response (R2) may function as a goal for the first response (R1). Evidence also suggests that extended training may cause R1 to become habitual and insensitive to the value of R2. Three experiments examined instrumental behavior chains in rats and humans and asked is extended training will result in habit formation. Experiment 1 found that extended training of a behavior chain resulted in insensitivity of R1 to R2 extinction in rats, suggesting R1 became a habit. Experiment 2 developed a novel instrumental behavior chain procedure in human participants and found that R2 extinction weakened its associated R1 responding, mirroring results found with rats. Experiment 3 replicated and extended this approach to examine whether extended training would result in habit formation in humans. The results clearly replicate and extend results observed with rats. However, we observed that R1 was weakened by R2 extinction across levels of training. We discuss the role of how to experimentally change the value of the outcome in this effect, and how future work is needed to better understand this process. Overall, the results suggest that behavior chain can facilitate the study of voluntary behavior and identifies common mechanisms in instrumental behavior in humans and rats.

Primary Faculty Mentor Name

Eric Thrailkill

Status

Undergraduate

Student College

College of Arts and Sciences

Program/Major

Neuroscience

Primary Research Category

Social Sciences

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Habit Formation in Behavior Chains: A Comparative Evaluation

Unhealthy personal behaviors contribute to premature deaths and financial burden on health systems. Contemporary theories suggest that behavior reflects two processes; one goal-directed defined by sensitivity to changes in the value of its outcome, and another habitual and insensitive to changes in outcome value. Another important aspect is that behavior occurs in sequences, or chains, of responses that are each required to receive the reinforcing outcome. Laboratory studies with rats suggest that, in a two-response chain (R1 then R2), performing the second response (R2) may function as a goal for the first response (R1). Evidence also suggests that extended training may cause R1 to become habitual and insensitive to the value of R2. Three experiments examined instrumental behavior chains in rats and humans and asked is extended training will result in habit formation. Experiment 1 found that extended training of a behavior chain resulted in insensitivity of R1 to R2 extinction in rats, suggesting R1 became a habit. Experiment 2 developed a novel instrumental behavior chain procedure in human participants and found that R2 extinction weakened its associated R1 responding, mirroring results found with rats. Experiment 3 replicated and extended this approach to examine whether extended training would result in habit formation in humans. The results clearly replicate and extend results observed with rats. However, we observed that R1 was weakened by R2 extinction across levels of training. We discuss the role of how to experimentally change the value of the outcome in this effect, and how future work is needed to better understand this process. Overall, the results suggest that behavior chain can facilitate the study of voluntary behavior and identifies common mechanisms in instrumental behavior in humans and rats.