A dynamic systems view of habits
Keywords: 
Dynamic systems
Habits
Multistability
Hysterisis
Learning
Issue Date: 
2014
Publisher: 
Frontiers Media
ISSN: 
1662-5161
Note: 
This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY).
Citation: 
Barrett NF. A dynamic systems view of habits. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. 2014;8:682
Abstract
This paper explores some of the insights offered by a dynamic systems approach into the nature of habits. “Dynamic systems approach” is used here as an umbrella term for studies of cognition, behavior, or development as systems of elements that change over time (e.g., Thelen and Smith, 1994, 2006), while “dynamical systems” is reserved for studies that use differential equations to describe time-based systems (e.g., Schöner and Kelso, 1988; Tschacher and Dauwalder, 2003). The following discussion draws primarily from the coordination dynamics research of Kelso (1995, 2012), which stems from Haken's theory of synergetics (1977, 2003). However, the view of habits presented here is more of an interpretive application than a literature review, as the work on which it draws does not address habits explicitly. Perhaps this is because conventional notions of habit are too broad and loose to be captured succinctly in dynamic terms. Dynamical studies of human behavior have focused on more specific capacities such as motor coordination (Thelen et al., 1987), perception (Tuller et al., 1994), and learning (Kostrubiec et al., 2012). Yet this variety of applications suggests that the scope of the dynamic approach overlaps significantly with the domain of habits, so that dynamic concepts could be used to challenge and refine our conventional notions of habitual behavior. Accordingly, the goal of this paper is to raise questions about the nature of habits rather than present a comprehensive scientific theory.

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