The Enactive Approach to Habits: New Concepts for the Cognitive Science of Bad Habits and Addiction

Following on from our opinion piece with Christian Schütz, here is the next installment in our development of a better understanding of addiction.

The Enactive Approach to Habits: New Concepts for the Cognitive Science of Bad Habits and Addiction

Susana Ramírez-Vizcaya and Tom Froese

Habits are the topic of a venerable history of research that extends back to antiquity, yet they were originally disregarded by the cognitive sciences. They started to become the focus of interdisciplinary research in the 1990s, but since then there has been a stalemate between those who approach habits as a kind of bodily automatism or as a kind of mindful action. This implicit mind-body dualism is ready to be overcome with the rise of interest in embodied, embedded, extended, and enactive (4E) cognition. We review the enactive approach and highlight how it moves beyond the traditional stalemate by integrating both autonomy and sense-making into its theory of agency. It defines a habit as an adaptive, precarious, and self-sustaining network of neural, bodily, and interactive processes that generate dynamical sensorimotor patterns. Habits constitute a central source of normativity for the agent. We identify a potential shortcoming of this enactive account with respect to bad habits, since self-maintenance of a habit would always be intrinsically good. Nevertheless, this is only a problem if, following the mainstream perspective on habits, we treat habits as isolated modules. The enactive approach replaces this atomism with a view of habits as constituting an interdependent whole on whose overall viability the individual habits depend. Accordingly, we propose to define a bad habit as one whose expression, while positive for itself, significantly impairs a person’s well-being by overruling the expression of other situationally relevant habits. We conclude by considering implications of this concept of bad habit for psychological and psychiatric research, particularly with respect to addiction research.


Editorial introduction to 4E cognition research in Mexico

With the aim of promoting and raising awareness about embodied, embedded, extended, and enactive cognition (4EC) research here in Mexico, Ximena and I organized a special issue on this theme.

In our editorial introduction we show that 4EC research in Mexico has fertile ground to build on, as there are several local traditions that are sympathetic to its core principles:

Grounding 4E Cognition in Mexico: introduction to special issue on spotlight on 4E Cognition research in Mexico

Ximena Gonzalez-Grandón and Tom Froese

Embodied, embedded, extended and enactive (4EC) perspectives on cognition have gained epistemic legitimacy during the last 25 years in the international arena. They have encouraged new ways to understand the mind. Mexico has not been an exception; rather, it has the potential to provide a fertile ground for the development of 4EC perspectives, as shown by the variety of contributions in this special issue. In this editorial introduction, we discuss recent concerns about a lack of coherence in the inter-relations between these perspectives, and we propose that it is more appropriate to view 4EC as an emerging pluralistic research tradition that shares crucial commitments. Furthermore, we show that this pluralistic tradition has been gaining ground in the specific research context of Mexico, because of the country’s distinctive historical, scientific and philosophical development. We finish by describing the promising research potential of the current heterogeneous explanations as evidenced by the papers in this issue.