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.

Keynote on identity, alterity and language

socioligia2The Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana in Mexico City is holding an international meeting on the topic “La otredad en sociedades transculturales: Identidad, Alteridad y Languaje“, September 23-25, 2015.

I have been invited as a keynote speaker to present my recent research. The title of my talk is “La ciencia cognitiva de la identidad y alteridad: Teorías, Modelos y Experimentos”.