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Acquired Behaviour |Mired In Observed Habits

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June 28, 2022
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Ritika Dureja BajajLife Coach and Mental cum Emotional Wellness Coach
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Karan is a well-behaved, decent and understanding child. Off- late, his mother observed that she had to repeat instructions multiple times to get any task accomplished by him. This was not the case earlier. She tried to correlate to the situations to understand the reason behind changes in Karan’s behaviour. She discovered that eversince Karan had a new friend in the locality, with whom he spent a considerable amount of time, the change has started seeping in. She tried to talk to Karan to come to final conclusions. During the conversation, Karan did reveal that he sees his friend modelling such a behaviour.

Well astonished, aren’t you?? So was Karan’s mother. That by just seeing behaviour being modelled by someone, her son started to acquire it. This is true with all of us. Isn’t it?

When we see someone performing a behaviour, we have tendency to either acquire it or not depending on consequences associated with it. When these behaviours are repeatedly performed by us, they tend to form habits. Thus, as per the research paper published by University of Cambridge, habits are defined as, “an oft-repeated action or an established practice or custom requiring little thought (such as brushing one’s hair or adding sugar to one’s coffee) to mean unconscious mental propensities or processes, revealed as behavioural tendencies and dispositions as the child/ individual engages with the events and challenges of everyday life.”

This means that those behaviours which have desired consequences, if practiced over and over again, can get automated. This connotes that we don’t have to put any conscious effort in modelling that behaviour. Rather it gets engrained and we simply act it out every time without any thinking/ planning. Even though we know that this happens every time, what is more shocking is that we tend to follow negative behaviours more quickly than good behaviours. Have you ever observed it?

Well, the answer to this lies in the theory given by the psychologist Albert Bandura. According to him, we tend to learn behaviours modelled by our role models just by observing them based on the consequences associated with that behaviour. Which means that if there is associated reward to no consequence, the behaviour is learned faster than the one which is accompanied by punishment. If we experience the same reward with that behaviour, we tend to model it.

As per the research published in National Library of Medicine in context to observational learning by Albert Bandura, “Specifically, Bandura and Jeffrey (1973) described four processes that account for learning from observation: attentional, retention, motor reproduction, and motivational. Bandura and Jeffery (1973) say, “Within this framework acquisition of modelled patterns is primarily controlled by attention and retention processes. Whereas performance of observationally learned responses is regulated by motor reproduction and incentive processes”.

According to this research, attentional processes are those cognitive abilities responsible for sensory registration of modelled actions. Retention processes include internal memory representation of behaviours observed. Motor reproduction processes enable enactment of observed behaviour from stored memory. Lastly, motivational processes are responsible for determining if individual will perform behaviour or not.

Thus, in simple terms, when the behaviour is being observed for the first time, if we as learner experience reward or satisfaction in some form, it forms a neural connection/pathway in our brain. Every time we observe the same behaviour, same pathway of rewarding system gets triggered, we experience the same satisfaction/ happiness. As a result of this, when we imitate the modelled behaviour ourself, same pathway gets triggered again. Since in some form or other, by following that behaviour, we experience what we want, “our so-called dopamine rush”, the behaviour sets as a habit. Once, it become a habit, it becomes difficult for us to break it as we are not conscious about it.

Habits are formed when we are repeatedly exposed to the similar situation (cues), which results in patterns following that habit (routine) and recompenses (rewards) associated with it. Bad habits are learned more quickly than good ones as the rewards associated with bad ones take less time to express. While the ones associated with the good ones take time to express. For instance, when person tastes the drug for the first time, he reaches the high state of elation in no time. However, to reach that same level of elation through exercises takes time. This immediate pleasure is one of the prime reasons that makes person addict.This is because the verge at which person gets instant gratification gets raised.

Also, the behaviours that are simple to adapt, get automated more quickly than the complex ones. As is stated by the research published in European Journal of Social Psychology, “Verplanken’s (2006) findings have suggested that complex behaviours achieve lower levels of automaticity than simple behaviours. However, in his study, the number of repetitions was restricted, leaving it possible that the complex task could become as habitual as the simple task with more repetitions. Nevertheless, Wood et al. (2002) found that complex tasks were associated with more thoughts about the task during its performance than simple tasks, indicating they may be less automatic”.

Thus, to break from the chain of bad habits or to incorporate any new habit, we need to work consciously towards it. To achieve the same, we got to break the habit loop.

Sequential steps to be followed to break or modify this loop are:

Step 1: We go to pause and identify the behaviour we want to modify/ acquire.

Step 2: Identify the situation(s)/ cues in which you practice that behaviour.

Step 3: Understand what are your patterns (routine) while modelling that behaviour.

Step 4: Decode the pleasure/ reward you gain by practicing that behaviour.

Step 5: Once you identify the cue, routine and reward, make conscious effort to change cues and routine to gain the desired reward. For instance, when you are over-burdened (cue),you show your aggression (routine), you seek pleasure as you seem to have control over things. If you try to find reasons that lead to over- burdening situations like time management, not happy in doing your work, you can change your pattern by either prioritizing your tasks, looking for moments of work when you felt your work was acknowledged etc would result in same reward wherein, you’ll feel everything is in your control.

Thus, in the end it can be summed up well, “What habits you want to model depends on you provided you are consciously aware of the rewards it will bring to you.”

Ritika Dureja Bajaj

Ritika Dureja Bajaj is an author and a certified Life Coach and Mental and Emotional Wellness Coach. A self-motivated philanthropist, she chose this path as she has an urge to contribute to society in a much larger way. With her strong educational background, and excellent oratory skills, Ritika has been working towards this since a while. Her in depth understanding of Mental Health has helped her transform many lives as a life coach.

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