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Planning to break unwanted habits: Habit strength moderates implementation intention effects on behaviour change

Authors

  • Thomas L. Webb,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Psychology, University of Sheffield, Western Bank, Sheffield, UK
      Correspondence should be addressed to Dr Thomas Webb, Department of Psychology, University of Sheffield, Western Bank, Sheffield, S10 2TP, UK (e-mail: t.webb@sheffield.ac.uk).
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  • Paschal Sheeran,

    1. Department of Psychology, University of Sheffield, Western Bank, Sheffield, UK
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  • Aleksandra Luszczynska

    1. University of Colorado, Colorado, USA
    2. Warsaw School of Social Psychology, Warsaw, Poland
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Correspondence should be addressed to Dr Thomas Webb, Department of Psychology, University of Sheffield, Western Bank, Sheffield, S10 2TP, UK (e-mail: t.webb@sheffield.ac.uk).

Abstract

Implementation intention formation promotes effective goal striving and goal attainment. However, little research has investigated whether implementation intentions promote behaviour change when people possess strong antagonistic habits. Experiment 1 developed relatively habitual responses that, after a task switch, had a detrimental impact on task performance. Forming an if-then plan reduced the negative impact of habit on performance. However, the effect of forming implementation intentions was smaller among participants who possessed strong habits as compared to participants who had weaker habits. Experiment 2 provided a field test of the role of habit strength in moderating the relationship between implementation intentions and behaviour in the context of smoking. Implementation intentions reduced smoking among participants with weak or moderate smoking habits, but not among participants with strong smoking habits. In summary, habit strength moderates the effectiveness of if-then plan formation in breaking unwanted habits.

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