Investigating the Validity of an Implicit Measurement Procedure for Habit: An Example Using Hand Washing

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Hargadon, Daniel
Habit , Implicit Measurement Procedures , Social Cognition , Hand Washing , Implicit Association Test (IAT)
For strong habits, mental associations between contextual cues and behavioural responses are theorized to give rise to behaviours that are largely spontaneous and resistant to the influence of deliberative cognitive processes. Commonly used self-reports of habitual behaviour do not assess context-behaviour associations that guide habitual action. Despite this, few studies have explored developing implicit measurement procedures for habits. Across three studies, I demonstrate that implicit measurement procedures can be used to measure the strength of context-behaviour associations that underlie habits by adapting the Single-Category Implicit Association Test (SC-IAT) to measure hand hygiene habit strength. I evaluate the concurrent and convergent validity of the Hand Hygiene SC-IAT (HH SC-IAT). I demonstrate that scores on the HH SC-IAT capture associations between hand hygiene cues and behavioural performance for individuals that performed hand washing during a laboratory task. I evaluate the ability of the HH SC-IAT to measure context-behaviour associations learned during a conditioning task. Finally, I examine the relationship between the HH SC-IAT and novel implicit (e.g., the Hand Hygiene Degraded Image Task and the Habit-Context Behavioural Intention Task) and explicit (e.g., the Hand Hygiene Frequency X Context Questionnaire) measurement procedures. This work represents a significant contribution to exploring habit measurement procedures where reaction time is the outcome of interest. Employing both implicit and explicit procedures to examine habits is desirable as they provide useful insights into the study of behaviour and allow researchers to test the theoretical assumptions of habit as a form of behavioural automaticity. Implications for future research are discussed.
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