Control feedback as the motivational force behind habitual behavior

O. Nafcha, E. T. Higgins, B. Eitam

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Motivated behavior is considered to be a product of integration of a behavior's subjective benefits and costs. As such, it is unclear what motivates “habitual behavior” which occurs, by definition, after the outcome's value has diminished. One possible answer is that habitual behavior continues to be selected due to its “intrinsic” worth. Such an explanation, however, highlights the need to specify the motivational system for which the behavior has intrinsic worth. Another key question is how does an activity attain such intrinsically rewarding properties. In an attempt to answer both questions, we suggest that habitual behavior is motivated by the influence it brings over the environment—by the control motivation system, including “control feedback.” Thus, when referring to intrinsic worth, we refer to a representation of an activity that has been reinforced due to it being effective in controlling the environment, managing to make something happen. As an answer to when does an activity attain such rewarding properties, we propose that this occurs when the estimated instrumental outcome expectancy of an activity is positive, but the precision of this expectancy is low. This lack of precision overcomes the chronic dominance of outcome feedback over control feedback in determining action selection by increasing the relative weight of the control feedback. Such a state of affairs will lead to repeated selection of control relevant behavior and entails insensitivity to outcome devaluation, thereby producing a habit.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProgress in Brain Research
Number of pages20
StatePublished - 2016

Publication series

NameProgress in Brain Research
ISSN (Print)0079-6123
ISSN (Electronic)1875-7855

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 Elsevier B.V.


  • Action selection
  • Anorexia
  • Comparator
  • Control
  • Cybernetic models
  • Goal-directed
  • Habit
  • Motivation
  • Sense of agency

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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