Experimental test of a planning intervention for forming a ‘higher order’ health-habit

L. Alison Phillips, Madeline Johnson, Kimberly R. More

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Objective: Habit-formation interventions may help individuals initiate and maintain behaviour change. This paper proposes and empirically tests the idea that it is possible for individuals to form ‘higher-order habits’, or behaviours that can be executed in more than one way, and still be habitual. 

Design: Participants (N = 82) were healthy adults randomly assigned to an action-and-coping-planning intervention for forming a ‘higher-order habit’ of filling half of their dinner plates with fruits and vegetables or a control condition. Key measures were collected at baseline and 1, 2 and 3 weeks post-baseline. Participants submitted 3 pictures per week of their dinner plates via snapchat/email. 

Main Outcome Measures: Intrinsic motivation, habit strength and behavioural frequency for filling half their dinner plates with fruits and vegetables. 

Results: Intervention participants reported significantly greater habit strength at each follow-up time point. Controls did show some degree of habit formation, despite not fully forming a habit. Behavioural automaticity increased despite consuming a variety of fruits/vegetables; results did not depend on participants’ intrinsic motivation to consume fruits/vegetables. 

Conclusion: It may be possible for individuals to form ‘higher-order’ habits, which may be particularly important in health contexts, in which many target behaviours are complex and can be seen as higher-order.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1328-1346
Number of pages19
JournalPsychology and Health
Issue number11
Early online date23 Feb 2019
Publication statusPublished - 2 Nov 2019


  • Habit formation
  • habit measurement
  • intrinsic motivation
  • planning intervention

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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