Developing an Implicit Measure of Habit Strength: The Habit IAT
Habits are defined as a form of automatic, spontaneous behaviours that are initiated following exposure to contextual cues. Although habits have been a focus of research for health, social, and consumer psychologists for many years, the literature has overwhelmingly relied on explicit, self-reports to measure habits. This is despite the fact that such measures require deliberative processing, and that individuals are frequently unable to consciously reflect on their spontaneous behaviours in order to accurately respond to self-report measures. To address concerns with self-report measures of habit, I have developed an implicit measure of habit strength: The Habit IAT. The purpose of this study was to validate an implicit measure of habit strength by investigating hand washing, a common habitual behaviour. One-hundred-and-sixty-six undergraduate students completed implicit measures of hand hygiene habit strength (Habit IAT) and attitudes toward hand hygiene (attitude IAT), as well as explicit measures of hand hygiene frequency, hand hygiene habits and attitudes, general self-efficacy, regulatory focus, and the big-five personality dimensions. The Habit IAT and attitude IAT had moderate and good internal consistency, α = .66 and α = .78, respectively. Correlational analyses indicated the Habit IAT was unrelated to an implicit measure of attitudes toward hand hygiene, providing some evidence of discriminant validity for the Habit IAT. In addition, Habit IAT and attitude IAT scores were unrelated to self-report measures of hand hygiene frequency, habit strength, and attitudes. Exploratory analyses were conducted to investigate moderation effects on the relationship between self-reported frequency of hand hygiene, habit strength, and attitudes on Habit IAT and attitude IAT scores. Although this study provides evidence of discriminant validity for the Habit IAT, it is limited by not investigating the ability of Habit IAT scores to predict observed hand hygiene behaviour. Design considerations for the development of future implicit measures of habit are discussed.