What are social habits


Habits are the fingerprints of the character.
Alfred Polgar or Jean Cocteau or Friedrich Nietzsche 😉

If you don't have bad habits, you probably don't have a personality either.
William Faulkner

Habits are behaviors that humans and animals regularly exercise in a stable context, without much thought or consideration, and are mostly based on decisions that humans have made consciously. The everyday confrontation of humans with new and complex processes requires awareness, attention and concentration, whereby the human brain strives to routine as much of its tasks as possible. The brain does not differentiate between good and bad habits, because once a behavior has become established, it is very difficult to change it again, even if one is firmly committed to it. As is well known, nothing is as permanent as a habit, because getting rid of such a habit takes on the toughest opponent the brain has to offer: the Basal ganglia deep in our brain structure, which control our habitual actions (see below).

Habits therefore determine life, whether they are helpful or harmful, with between 30 and 50 percent of daily activities being determined by habits, with new information changing almost nothing. Without habits, the brain would often be overwhelmed by the details of everyday life. But habits also make sense to provide people with more mental energy to do more important things, whereby this energy saving in turn makes it difficult to change an established behavior, because this control lies in an area of ​​the brain that cannot be consciously controlled .

When habits are in harmony with goals, they are useful and sometimes even vital for survival, but if they don't, they often only disturb them, rob them of time, energy and sometimes damage to health.

A habit is therefore a behavior developed and stabilized under similar conditions, which has been stereotyped through repetition and is automatically carried out according to the same scheme when experiencing similar situation conditions, if it is not consciously avoided or suppressed. Habits arise according to the psychological pattern of one Behavior loop (habit loop), which consists of three phases:

  • The Stimulus or triggerthat tells the brain to get used to a behavior: This can be a certain point in the daily routine, a special emotional state or the influence of other people ...
  • The behavior itself or the routine that triggers it.
  • The reward, that is, what the brain likes and which it will remind of the behavior loop next time.

In most cases, you do not even notice that you are exercising the habit, but rather they are completely automated, which is why it is so difficult to get rid of the behavior.

The formation of habits, likes and dislikes can already be seen at lower animal species to single-cell organisms that can be conditioned.

According to the understanding of psychology, habits are actions that have been learned once, which run automatically without conscious control, whereby one can differentiate between thinking habits, feeling habits and behavioral habits. The human brain prefers habits in everyday life and has tried to automate recurring events and actions quickly since early childhood and rewards routine actions with the body's own hormones, because these require much less energy and neuronal effort. Incidentally, regularity also has a direct effect on the bond between mother and child for the youngest child, because it experiences security and care through the provision and satisfaction of the main needs that are essential for survival. Children who lack routine in everyday life later develop fear of the unpredictable and are less confident in new situations.

Familiar actions usually run safely, precisely and quickly, in contrast to new and unfamiliar tasks, because then mostly working memory has to come into operation, which requires more time and energy. Once learned, complicated processes that have been automated become less and less bumpy, so that you no longer have to concentrate on them. The cerebral cortex works with centers that are responsible for unconscious, automated actions or reflexes, such as the cerebellum or the so-called basal ganglia, which control more than ninety percent of everyday activities. After all, only an “accompanying awareness” is effective in routine actions. According to a study by University College London, it takes an average of 66 days to establish a new habit or behavior. Crego et al. (2020) tried to find out in an experiment with rats what exactly goes on in the brain when new habits arise. To do this, the animals had to move in a maze in which a reward was always waiting for them in the same place. As it is known from previous studies, with neural activity in the dorsolateral striatum related to how well the animals master this task, one increased or decreased the activity of this area by means of Optogenetics, in which light-sensitive proteins are introduced into the neurons so that these cells can be remotely controlled by light stimuli. If you stimulated the dorsolateral striatum of the rats in the experiment half a second after they had started running in the maze, they moved purposefully to the position. Apparently it had become a habit for the rats to always turn in the same place. If you blocked this area in the striatum, however, they moved more slowly and apparently indecisively through the labyrinth. Presumably, the striatum must be active right at the beginning of an action so that the brain can unwind a habitual pattern of behavior.

Thinking habits reflect personal attitudes and values, such as what is morally right and wrong, but they also include what image you have of yourself and how your own skills and knowledge are assessed, whereby most of these habits have developed unconsciously over time so that they only become aware when they are disturbed. Emotional habits are very dependent on personality and describe the individual tendency to often react with the same feeling in a certain situation. Behavioral habits in everyday life ultimately provide security and save time and energy for new information and requirements that have to be mastered. It is estimated that around 20 percent of all people have the constant need for variety, while the majority need routine in order to feel comfortable, because for them daily recurring processes at the same times provide security and orientation and convey a feeling for time and social Regulate. If groups show the same habits, these often become a social custom or collective conviction that is no longer questioned, whereby complex customs are often cultivated, i.e. consciously maintained. Common action is also based on customary rights and duties that go back to agreements and mutual obligations that have been maintained for a long time. By the way, there is also a customary international law in the form of an unwritten international law that arises through general practice, supported by the conviction that the norm is legally binding.

A to replace old habit with a new one is for that brain usually very difficult, because routines that are in the basal ganglia and in the cerebellum are no longer directly subject to conscious will and are fairly immune to changes. Routines can be learned at any age, but studies show that the first ten years of life are particularly suitable for this, as this is the time when particularly favorable neurobiological conditions exist for elementary learning processes. However, later relearning and changing habits require a lot more time and patience than in this first decade of life.

With age habits increase as adults get used to dressing in certain ways, smoking a cigarette with coffee, or sorting out trash. People grow into company structures and into certain roles. Habits are sometimes small addictions, because when people experience that a certain behavior leads to a reward, they repeat it as often as possible. Rewards create a neurally anchored desire and transform the brain. Well-developed or rigid thinking and behavioral habits can, as is well known, also be detrimental to creativity in later life and lead to an entrenched, more or less thoughtless act.

Incidentally, Galla & Duckworth (2015) have shown that habits are at the core of the Self control because they were able to show in several studies that self-controlled people do more sport, eat healthier, are less distracted from learning, meditate more successfully and write better grades, i.e. if they have fixed habits. Therefore, people who can control themselves well are more successful mainly because they have stronger habits, not because they suppress undesirable behavior.

A tip for changing habits: Research (Kuhbandner & Haager, 2016) shows that it makes a difference whether you want to break an annoying habit or try something new. Apparently, approach behavior is easier to learn, while it is harder to break an old habit.

Etymologically the word hangs habit by the way with Living (Latin habitare, hence in English habit), win and therefore also Bliss together.


Crego, Adam C.G., ŠtoÄ ek, Fabián, Marchuk, Alec G., Carmichael, James E., van der Meer, Matthijs A.A. & Smith, Kyle S. (2020). Complementary control over habits and behavioral vigor by phasic activity in the dorsolateral striatum. The Journal of Neuroscience, doi: 10.1523 / JNEUROSCI.1313-19.2019.
Galla, B. M. & Duckworth, A. L. (2015). More Than Resisting Temptation: Beneficial Habits Mediate the Relationship Between Self-Control and Positive Life Outcomes. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 109, 508-525.
Jimenez, F. (2012). Why it helps if the milk is always on the right. Die Welt online from March 31, 2012.
Kuhbandner, C. & Haager, J. S. (2016). Overcoming Approach and Withdrawal Habits: Approaching former enemies is easier than withdrawing from former friends. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 145, 1438-1447.
http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/V%C3%B6lkergewohnheitsrecht (12-11-11)
http://www.zeit.de/zeit-wissen/2013/02/Psychologie-Gewohnheiten/ (13-04-10)

More pages on the topic