Dual Process Theory
What is Dual Process Theory
The Dual Process Theory provides a framework to understand how habits relate to behavior.
It posits the existence of two parallel systems for processing information and generating behavior.
- System 1. The first is the impulsive pathway, where habits are formed, and behaviors are triggered quickly and efficiently by perceiving cues in the environment.
- System 2. The second is the reflective pathway, where reasoned thoughts, like intentions, guide behavior through slow and deliberate decision-making. While habitual impulses are generally subconscious, they can be stopped before turning into actual behavior.
We become aware of these impulses as urges when something blocks or interferes with them. Individuals can intentionally create, modify, or break habits through conscious effort and reflection.
As habits develop, control over actions shifts from internal factors, like motivation, to external factors, such as environmental stimuli, making them more likely to persist even when motivation decreases.
Habitual and Goal-Directed Behaviors
Habitual behavior, which is associated with the corticostriatal sensorimotor loop, can be linked to System 1 as it represents automatic, fast, and intuitive processes. These behaviors become more stereotyped and ingrained with repetition, requiring less conscious effort or attention.
Goal-directed behavior, connected to the corticostriatal associative loop, can be correlated with System 2 as it involves slower, more deliberate, and controlled processes. This type of behavior requires active planning and conscious decision-making to achieve specific goals or outcomes.
Both habitual and goal-directed behaviors involve connections between the cortex and striatum but use distinct pathways.
Goal-directed behavior is associated with the corticostriatal associative loop, linking the prefrontal cortex and orbitofrontal cortex to the dorsomedial striatum. In contrast, habitual behavior is connected to the corticostriatal sensorimotor loop, linking the sensorimotor cortex to the dorsolateral striatum. As learned behaviors become more stereotyped and automatic, the sensorimotor loop becomes more active in encoding the behavior’s features.
The real challenge is dynamically shifting between habitual and goal-directed strategies in daily life. This balance, which is difficult to study experimentally, is thought to depend on cortex-modulated local striatal circuits. Research has shown that orbitofrontal cortex activity is necessary for shifting from habitual to goal-directed strategies. This change relies on corticostriatal connection plasticity, which is mediated by multiple neurotransmitter systems.
According to Alana I. Mendelsohn (2020), understanding the dual system for habitual and goal-directed behavior has broader implications than just daily routines.
Imbalances in these behaviors could underlie certain psychopathologies, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, Tourette syndrome, and substance abuse.
Two possible biological explanations for habitual tendencies in these disorders are an over-reliance on habitual processes or inadequate goal-directed control regulation.
Recent studies have shown that habitual biases in obsessive-compulsive disorder may be related to disruptions in circuits underlying goal-directed control. However, a potential confounding factor is that stress highly regulates habitual behavior. Acute and chronic stress can increase reliance on habitual strategies, which might be an adaptive reallocation of cognitive resources to reduce the likelihood of unreliable performance overall.