New paper reviewing outcome devaluation paradigms

In their new paper, Poppy and Sanne provide a review of outcome devaluation paradigms. They outline that such paradigms are useful but that they do not inform us to what extent insensitivity to outcome devaluation can be attributed to either strong habit formation or to weak goal-directed control. They provide suggestions for future research as well as alternative paradigms to study such processes.

Read the article here!

Watson, P., & de Wit, S. (2018). Current limits of experimental research into habits and future directions. Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences, 20, 33-39.


New paper on representational precision during action preparation

In this new study, using fMRI data, the authors demonstrated how the precision of representations in perceptual and motor areas is affected by the specific action goal and the associated reward value when participants prepare face or hand actions. The article is now in press in NeuroImage.

van Steenbergen, H., Warren, C.M., Kühn, S., de Wit, S., Wiers, R.W., & Hommel, B. (in press). Representational precision in visual cortex reveals outcome encoding and reward modulation during action preparation. NeuroImage

New article on breaking habits with implementation intentions

The interplay between inflexible habits and flexible goal-directed behaviour can be experimentally modelled using
the slips-of-action task. In a new article, we report how such habits can be changed with implementation intentions (specific if-then action plans). We demonstrate that implementation intentions improved the ability to suppress previously learnt responses towards no-longer-valuable abstract outcomes. However, when food outcomes were used, the beneficial effect of implementation intentions versus goal intentions was not observed. The article will be published in Special Issue on Learning via Instructions in Acta Psychologica.

Reference: Verhoeven, A.A.C., Kindt, M., Zomer, C.L., & de Wit, S. (in press). An experimental investigation of breaking learnt habits with verbal implementation intentions. Acta Psychologica.


New article: neural basis of the effect of food-associated cues on choice

In this neuroimaging study, we investigated the effect of environmental stimuli on food choices (using a Pavlovian-instrumental transfer paradigm). We replicated earlier studies that found that sating participants on a particular food immediately reduces their responding to obtain this food in a computerized task. However, when food-associated (Pavlovian) stimuli are presented in the background, these will bias responding towards the signaled food regardless of satiation. Next, we related behavioral performance to multimodal MRI. The biasing effect of food-associated stimuli was related to brain activity in the posterior putamen and functional coupling with amygdala, and individual differences in gray matter in premotor cortex. This brain network was previously implicated in inflexible, outcome-insensitive habits. On the other hand, we found that goal-directed behavior in the absence of food-associated cues was related to brain activity in ventromedial prefrontal cortex and individual differences in white-matter tract connectivity with the caudate. Therefore, this study provides evidence for dissociable neural networks that subserve inflexible, stimulus-guided behavior versus goal-directed action.

van Steenbergen, H., Watson, P., Wiers, R.W., Hommel, B., & de Wit, S. (in press). Dissociable corticostriatal circuits underlie goal-directed versus cue-elicited habitual food seeking after satiation: Evidence from a multimodal MRI study. European Journal of Neuroscience.
DOI: 10.1111/ejn.13586

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Impressions of the March for Science

The March for Science was a great success in bringing scientists and non-scientists together, and making our voice heard. In fact, we talked to so many interested people that we almost lost our voices by the end of the day! Below some impressions of the day…

Habit Lab @ March for Science

At the Habit Lab, we know how important science is. This Saturday, April 22nd, the March for Science is held all over the world, including in Amsterdam, to raise awareness about the importance of science for our community. The Habit Lab will be present to support the March for Science and to demonstrate what our research means for society! You can find us in one of the science tents, wheree we will demonstrate what we study, how we do research, and what its implications are for the community.
Check out the program and pay a visit to the science tents!


Poppy presents at Associative Learning Symposium

From April 11 to 13, the Associative Learning Symposium was held in Wales. In the beautiful, remote environment of the Gregynog Hall, this three-day symposium was filled with inspirational talks and discussions. Here, Poppy presented her recent work on insensitivity to devaluation after extended training in humans and Aukje presented a poster about the effects of different types of implementation intentions for breaking habits.

New article: Stimulus control over food-seeking in obesity

Our environment is full of cues signaling the availability of tasty, but often unhealthy, foods. In this paper, Poppy and colleagues report a recent study that examined the effect of food-associated stimuli on choice behavior in participants with healthy weight versus severe obesity. During a computerized test, participants were exposed to Pavlovian cues predictive of food pictures, and we examined their biasing effect on instrumental choice. For example, would a cue associated with crisps lead to a higher response rate for crisps (as opposed to, for example, lettuce)? Obese participants were indeed found to be more sensitive to high-calorie food cues relative to low-calorie cues. In contrast, healthy-weight individuals did not show a difference between the two food types. Therefore, this study supports the clinical relevance of this associative mechanism, and suggests that severely obese individuals are particularly sensitive to high-calorie food cues whereas low-calorie food cues have little effect on their behavior.

Follow this link to access the paper.

Reference: Watson, P. Wiers, R.W., Hommel, B., Gerdes, V.E.A., de Wit, S. (2017). Stimulus Control over Action for Food in Obese versus Healthy-weight Individuals, Frontiers in Psychology – Eating Behavior,

Follow this link to the Dutch press release

Chapter on habits in new Wiley Handbook of Cognitive Control

In the recently published ‘Wiley Handbook of Cognitive Control’, Sanne is the author of the chapter entitled ‘Control of Behaviour by Competing Learning Systems’. This chapter provides an overview of experimental research on goal-directed and habitual processes that control our behaviour.

More information? Check the Wiley website!

Reference: de Wit, S (2017). Control of Behaviour by Competing Learning Systems. In T. Egner (Ed.), The Wiley Handbook of Cognitive Control (pp. 190-206). Wiley-Blackwell