Habitual behaviour is a form of automatic and routine behaviour. It is behaviour that people repeat, because this behaviour is easy, comfortable or rewarding. Habitual behaviour's automatically character is demonstrated by the fact that it is often started by a cue or a change in the situation. It is efficient to do something by habit, and not to constantly reason with oneself about what is the best thing to do. The intrinsic advantages of the behaviour outweigh the possible disadvantages. ‘Intrinsic' because, in the case of habitual behaviour, there is no constant weighing of pros and cons.
Figure 2 Habitual behaviour
Figure 2 shows the mechanism. (Jager et al., 1992). The ‘plusses' (at the right in the model) weigh against the ‘minuses' and change the originally planned behaviour into a habit. Through repetition, a ‘loop' and an automatism develop: reasoned weighing does not occur every time, but only when the loop is broken. The next example may clarify this: If someone takes the car to work every day, he does this because it easy, comfortable and cheap. He gets in the car in front of his house, and gets out at the office; he plays his favourite music, and is not bothered by the weather. ‘Weighing' has become intrinsic and implicit, and is not done every time he travels to the office. This probably will change, however, if fuel prices are doubled. The loop breaks because one of the initial reasons to take the car (cheap) no longer exists, and he becomes aware of that when filling the tank. He will now weigh the pros and cons again. See the backward arrow in the figure. And new behaviour - maybe a new habit - will begin.
Almost all behaviour (95% of household energy behaviour) is a form of habitual behaviour (Wagenaar, 1992).
There are four general possibilities for intervention:
(1) Interventions can address the habit itself by deconditioning techniques (rewards, and sanctions);
(2) The activation of the habit can be blocked by transforming the cue or situation;
(3) When activation has already taken place, the habitual activities can be hindered by situational psychological or social blockades forcing a transition to reasoned action.
(4) The negative consequences of the habitual activities can be limited of redirected, which seems to be the preferred course of action because behavioural modification might be superfluous, i.e. by making appliances automatic or ‘fool-proof' (Heijs, 1999).
Summarizing we can influence habitual household energy behaviour by breaking the habitual loop by:
removing incentives that support the habitual behaviour;
making consumers aware of their habitual behaviour, and;
Enabling them to avoid or control the negative outcomes and provide positive alternatives.
In this way we can learn, and teach, new desired habits.