Posted by: aphr | June 16, 2009

The Power of Habits

Everybody who has tried to overcome habits like nail biting or checking email twice an hour knows how difficult it can be to break a habit.

Vice versa, if one hopes to introduce a new behavior into ones life, for example to work out regularly, making it a habit is a powerful and effective way to do so.

The best part: if you know a little bit about habits, it is not very hard to develop, change or drop habits. There are hundreds of blogs, websites, books and personal trainers who specialize on that field. ZenHabits is one place to go, this is another.

This post was triggered by me stumbling upon the following display of (potentially) habitual behavior while reading the International Journal of Game Theory (working on my thesis):

In the two player public good game, each player receives some money and then decides on a part of this to be invested into the public good. For each dollar he invests, he receives 0.75 dollars back and the other player receives the same amount. Investment into the public good thus increases the total payoff, but not the individual payoff of the investor. While superrationality or altruism explain cooperation in this game, experiments have shown that many players invest substantially even when they know that they are playing with a phantom partner and that their decision does not effect any payoff but their own.

A possible explanation is that individuals decide based on learned habits, rather than the situation at hand. Since cooperative behavior is usually rewarded, many humans learn to cooperate and continue to do so regardless of the game played.


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