Irene presents at the Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Neuroscience Society

During the 2019 Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Neuroscience Society in San Francisco (23-26 March), Irene presented a poster on a current study in which we relate individual differences in habit tendency in the lab as well as habit formation in real life to the presence and quality of structural (white-matter) connections in the brain. The study was also selected for a Data Blitz presentation.

Sanne presents at the International Convention for Psychological Science 2019

At the ICPS Convention in Paris (7th-9th of March 2019), Sanne participated in a symposium on habits organized by Jan de Houwer – together with Eike Buabang, Helen Tibboel and Andreas Eder. She presented recent work with a newly developed experimental paradigm (‘the Sneaky Skate Game’), which can be used to assess the balance between goal-directed and habitual control in humans.

New paper on goal-directed behaviour in smokers

A study that was led by Maartje Luijten (Radboud University, Nijmegen) has been published in the journal: Nicotine & Tobacco Research.

We used the computerized slips-of-action task to study the balance between goal-directed and habitual control in smokers. We found no differences overall between the smokers and a nonsmoking control group in task performance. However, individual differences in smoking severity were significantly and negatively correlated with performance, pointing at impaired goal-directed control in more severe smokers.

Luijten, M., Gillan, C.M., de Wit, S., Franken, I.H.A., Robbins, T.W., Ersche, K.D. (2019). Goal-Directed and Habitual Control in Smokers. Nicotine & Tobacco Research,

New paper in press: Social Media and Depression Symptoms: A Network Perspective

A new paper by George Aalbers, Richard McNally, Alexandre Heeren, Sanne de Wit and Eiko Fried will soon appear in Journal of Experimental Psychology – General. In this study, the authors investigated the relation between Passive social media use – e.g., scrolling through social media News Feeds – and depression symptoms.

Aalbers, G., McNally, R., Heeren, A., de Wit, S., & Fried, E.I. (in press). Social Media and Depression Symptoms: A Network Perspective. Journal of Experimental Psychology – General

Chapter in The Psychology of Habit

The Psychology of Habit was edited by Prof. Verplanken and was recently published by Springer. Sanne contributed a chapter on the role of habits in maladaptive behaviour and in therapeutic interventions, focusing specifically on the use of implementation intentions to break unwanted habits and form new, more desirable habits.

From the publisher’s site: This unique reference explores the processes and nuances of human habits through social psychology and behavioral lenses. It provides a robust definition and theoretical framework for habit as well as up-to-date information on habit measurement, addressing such questions as which mechanisms are involved in habitual action and whether people can report accurately on their own habits. Specialized chapters pay close attention to how habits can be modified, as well as widely varying manifestations of habitual thoughts and behaviors, including the mechanisms of drug addiction and recovery, the repetitive characteristics of autism, and the unwitting habits of health professionals that may impede patient care. And across these pages, contributors show the potential for using the processes of maladaptive habits to replace them with positive and health-promoting ones. Throughout this volume attention is also paid to the practice of conducting habit research.

For more information, visit the Springer site

Reference: Verhoeven, A.A.C. & de Wit, S. (2018). The role of habits in maladaptive behaviour and therapeutic interventions. In Verplanken, B. (Ed.), The psychology of habit: Theory, mechanisms, change, and contexts. Cham: Springer

Chapter in ‘Understanding goal-directed decision making: computations and neural circuits‘

In this recently published book by Elsevier (Editors: Morris, Bornstein, & Shenhav), Sanne de Wit contributed a chapter on habits and goal-directed action control in disorders of compulsivity, including substance abuse and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

From the publisher’s site: Goal-Directed Decision Making: Computations and Neural Circuits examines the role of goal-directed choice. It begins with an examination of the computations performed by associated circuits, but then moves on to in-depth examinations on how goal-directed learning interacts with other forms of choice and response selection. This is the only book that embraces the multidisciplinary nature of this area of decision-making, integrating our knowledge of goal-directed decision-making from basic, computational, clinical, and ethology research into a single resource that is invaluable for neuroscientists, psychologists and computer scientists alike.

For more information, visit the Elsevier site

Reference: de Wit (2018). Goal-Directed Action in Disorders of Compulsivity. In Morris, Bornstein, & Shenhav (Eds), Understanding Goal-Directed Decision Making: Computations and Neural Circuits. Elsevier

New paper in press: an fMRI investigation of the conflict between goal-directed and habitual control

“Conflicted between goal-directed and habitual control – an fMRI investigation” by Poppy Watson, Guido van Wingen, and Sanne de Wit will soon appear in eNeuro.

In this functional MRI study we investigated the neural basis of performance on the slips-of-action paradigm -a task that has been used in previous studies to assess the balance between goal-directed and habitual control.

Meer dan 100 vwo-leerlingen op bezoek bij de FMG

Meer dan 100 vwo-leerlingen van het Berlage Lyceum bezochten woensdag 13 juni de FMG. Zij volgden een multidisciplinair FMG-college over junkfood; ook kregen zij profielwerkstukbegeleiding aangeboden. Dit alles gebeurde in het kader van het outreach-project dat de bekendheid van en het enthousiasme voor maatschappij- en gedragswetenschappen onder vwo-scholieren moet vergroten.
De 4-vwo-scholieren bezochten interactieve presentaties van studenten Denise van de Wetering (Communicatiewetenschap) en Emiel Schoneveld (Universitaire Pabo van Amsterdam) en docent Sanne de Wit (Psychologie) over het thema junkfood. Zo was er onder meer aandacht voor de beïnvloeding van eetgedrag door social media influencers en de manier waarop ongezond eetgedrag is vastgelegd in onze hersenen. Ook werd belicht hoe leerkrachten junkfood kunnen behandelen in de klas, bijvoorbeeld door te onderzoeken waar ingrediënten vandaan komen en het bespreken van de invloed van reclames.

Profielwerkstukbegeleiding voor 5 vwo’ers
Ondertussen kregen de 5-vwo-scholieren een profielwerkstukbegeleiding van Marijke Metz, onderzoeker en docent Pedagogische en Onderwijswetenschappen, om de leerlingen alvast op gang te helpen bij het schrijven van hun profielwerkstuk in het zesde jaar.

Evaluatie van de pilot
Het outreach-project, waarvan de pilot in april startte, is een initiatief van de domeinen Psychologie, Pedagogische en Onderwijswetenschappen, Sociale Wetenschappen en Communicatiewetenschap en het Faculteitsbureau. In april werd de pilot afgetrapt met een thematische sessie over sociale media. De eerste sessies worden op dit moment geëvalueerd, om te beslissen hoe het outreach-project in september kan worden vervolgd.

Gepubliceerd door Faculteit der Maatschappij- en Gedragswetenschappen

Paula Ibáñez de Aldecoa is visiting us from the University of Vienna

Paula Ibáñez de Aldecoa is visiting us from the University of Vienna for research into mental fixation and automaticity, as part of her PhD Project under supervisión of Dr. Sabine Tebbich.

After obtaining a BSc degree in Biology (2010) and a MSc degree in Neuroscience (2016) at the Autonomous University of Madrid, I started my PhD at the Department of Cognitive Biology at the University of Vienna under supervision of Dr. Sabine Tebbich, where I am working on the mechanisms, components and promoters of innovation in humans and animals. Currently I am visiting the Habit Lab during three months as part of a research project on the relationship of habit proneness and mental fixation on innovativeness and problem solving skills in young human adults, in collaboration with Dr. Sanne de Wit and her team at the University of Amsterdam.

New publication on individual differences in habitual performance in experimental and real-life settings

The authors investigated whether people differ in their propensity to form habits, by relating individual differences on a computer task measuring habitual behavior to habit formation tendencies in real life. Habit formation in real life was measured by covering the key to the participant’s home with a new cover. This cover was later switched to a different key and changes in the key-selection process were measured. Participants that performed better on the computer task also seemed to require less attention to adjust to the switching key situation.

Read the article here!

Linnebank, F.E., Kindt, M. & de Wit, S. (2018). Investigating the balance between goal-directed and habitual control in experimental and real-life settings. Learning & Behavior.

NEMO Kennislink Live op dinsdag 13 februari: Controle over onze wil

NEMO Kennislink Live over goede voornemens, doorzettingsvermogen en de illusie van (zelf)beheersing

Controle over onze wil
Waarom kan jij wat ik niet kan? Met de jaarwisseling waren onze voornemens zó oprecht, maar inmiddels hebben velen moeten constateren dat gewoontes sterker zijn dan onze wil. Toch lukt het sommigen wél om zichzelf te veranderen. Hoe doen zij dat? En: wat maakt het allemaal zo moeilijk om te doen wat we eigenlijk willen? Kunnen we onze wil niet wat beter beheersen? Op dinsdagavond 13 februari praten drie experts onder leiding van Desiree Hoving tijdens NEMO Kennislink Live met het publiek over de vraag of we onze wil onder controle kunnen krijgen. Toegang is gratis.

Experts aan het woord
Tijdens deze editie van NEMO Kennislink Live spreken we met wetenschappers die vanuit verschillende perspectieven nadenken over goede voornemens, doorzettingsvermogen en (zelf)beheersing. Dit keer: Wouter de Jong, Sanne de Wit en Vana Hutter.

Wouter de Jong publiceerde dit jaar het boek Mindgym, sportschool voor je geest. Deze van oorsprong jurist en acteur begon in 2013 met het volgen van mindfulness-trainingen, onder meer aan de Vrije Universiteit. Sindsdien geeft hij mentale trainingen om jezelf beter te laten doen wat je echt belangrijk vindt en die ook nog eens wetenschappelijk onderbouwd zijn.

Sanne de Wit werkt als psycholoog aan de Universiteit van Amsterdam en is daar hoofdonderzoeker bij het Habit Lab. Daar onderzoekt ze onder meer hoe we onze goede voornemens het beste kunnen laten slagen. Zo ontdekte ze dat de ene mens zijn oude gewoontes makkelijker vervangt door nieuwe gewoontes dan de andere.

Vana Hutter is als docent en onderzoeker in de sportpsychologie verbonden aan de Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam. Ze begeleidde zowel top- als breedtesporters bij de mentale kant van trainen en presteren. Volgens haar is zelfregulatie, het vermogen om acties, emoties en gedachten te sturen, essentieel om je doelen te bereiken. Niet alleen voor sporters, maar voor ieder mens.

19.30 – 20.00 uur: Ontvangst
20.00 – 22.00 uur: Gesprek met wetenschappers en publiek
22.00 – 22.30 uur: Borrel

Toegang is gratis en aanmelden kan via dit formulier.

New article on impaired goal-directed control in adolescent OCD

In this article, Julia Gottwald, Sanne de Wit, and colleagues investigated performance of teenagers with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) on critical cognitive domains for daily functioning and academic success, including goal-directed behavioral control, cognitive flexibility, learning, and memory. Patients demonstrated a significant learning and memory impairment compared to healthy control subjects, as well as impairments in goal-directed goal and cognitive plasticity. These results add to our understanding of  juvenile OCD.

Read the article here!

Gottwald, J., De Wit, S., Apergis-Schoute, A., Morein-Zamir, S., Kaser, M., Cormack, F., . . . Sahakian, B. (2018). Impaired cognitive plasticity and goal-directed control in adolescent obsessive–compulsive disorder. Psychological Medicine, 1-9.

New publication: Why health warnings might fail to change eating behavior

In their new study, Aukje, Poppy and Sanne investigated why the effects of health warnings on our food-choice behavior is typically rather limited. Using the Pavlovian-instrumental transfer task, participants learned associations between stimuli (abstract pictures), behavior and food products. Participants then read a text stating that one of the foods is unhealthy. In the task, participants then showed that in the absence of stimuli, people chose food products in line with health warnings. However, in the presence of food-related stimuli, their responding was biased towards that food product, regardless of the health warning and regardless of their desire for that product.

Read the article here:
Read the press release here in Dutch or English.

Aukje A. C. Verhoeven, Poppy Watson, & Sanne de Wit (2018). Failing to pay heed to health warnings in a food-associated environment. Appetite, 120, 616-626.


Aukje demonstrates the computerized PIT task that was used for this research.

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.


Warm welcome to our new post-doc Irene van de Vijver!

As of yesterday, the Habit Lab has a new member: Irene van de Vijver. Irene will be working as a post-doc focussing on the neural underpinnings of habitual behavior and implementation intentions.

Welcome Irene!

If you want to read more about her interesting research and wealth of expertise, visit her personal page:

Irene van de Vijver

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

For a commentary on this article, see: