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Habit is something a person learns to do over and over again without thinking about how to do it. Many everyday actions are habits. Imagine how difficult it would be to tie your shoelaces if you had to think of every action needed to complete the bow. A habit is different from an instinct. An instinct is behaviour that is inborn, instead of learned. 

How we learn habits. 

Most habits begin as actions that a person is aware of. The more the person performs an action, the easier it becomes. Strong habits become automatic, and require little or no thought. 

Psychologists generally agree that a stimulus (something that starts an action) must be present each time the habit is carried out. For example, a red traffic light is a stimulus to an experienced driver. It triggers the response of pressing the brake pedal. To learn this habit, each new driver must practise under actual traffic conditions, learning to press the brake pedal when the light is red. 

Many psychologists believe that people will learn a habit only if it benefits them. Psychologists call this satisfaction a reward or a reinforcement. If the habit satisfies people, they tend to keep it. When a habit offers no reward or becomes unpleasant, they may break (discard) it. For example, some people get pleasure from smoking. Because of the pleasure (reward), smoking becomes a habit. If the habit becomes unpleasant (no longer brings a reward), a person may stop smoking. 

Psychologists who support the reward idea of habit formation disagree with an older idea. The older idea said that "paths" were made in the nervous system when an act was repeated. However, psychologists have taught rats habits and then cut their nervous systems at many points. Despite the cuts, the rats continued to perform the habits. This result suggests that the learning of habits does not depend on specific nerve connections and does not occur only in particular parts of the brain. 

Kinds of habits. 

Some habits are simple and require only movements of the muscles. When approaching a door, a person grasps the doorknob. This action is called a simple motor act. The movement seems quite natural, but the person once had to learn this habit. A doorknob is a strange thing to a child when first encountered. The child may play with the doorknob many times before learning to open the door by turning the knob. 

Some habits are more than simple motor acts. They are thoughts and attitudes we have about things and people. Psychologists call them habits of adjustment. Some of these habits are "good" and others are "bad", depending on how they affect other people. We learn "good" habits to act as others expect us to act. Neat appearance and pleasant manners are considered good habits. A person may learn "bad" habits, thinking something can be gained from them. But such habits may be annoying to others.


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