Habit formation and multiple means to goal attainment: Repeated retrieval of target means causes inhibited access to competitors

U.N. Danner*, H. Aarts, N.K. de Vries

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Three studies examined the cognitive processes underlying the formation of goal-directed habits in a multiple means context. Repeated retrieval of target means upon goal activation was expected to result in inhibition of competing means for the same goal. In all studies, participants studied goal-means combinations and subsequently practiced the retrieval of certain means to attain the goals in a retrieval paradigm. Study 1 tested accessibility of the different means in a goal-means verification task and showed that competing means were not inhibited after a single retrieval but only upon repeated retrieval (three or nine times). Studies 2 and 3 extended these findings in a means-recognition task and demonstrated that inhibition occurred in the absence of explicit intent or instructions to suppress the competitors. These inhibitory effects of competing means are discussed against the background of current social cognition research on the processes underlying goal-means networks and the formation of habits.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1367-1379
JournalPersonality and Social Psychology Bulletin
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2007

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