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William James : Habit (From The Principles of Psychology) - Research Paper Example

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William James : Habit (From The Principles of Psychology)

Psychology is one of the most essential areas in the sphere of science and human life and is studied in an attempt to understand why people behave in the manner in which they do and to comprehend their subconscious (Benjafield 1-4). A prominent author in the field is William James. He has written a number of texts on the subject including The Principles of Psychology in 1980. Within this book he considers a number of different aspects of psychology that play a large role in humans, including habit. Habit is a form of behavior that is followed routinely and repeated for a longer period of time which ultimately ends up occurring subconsciously in a person. He argues that some habits occur as the result of instinct, innate qualities that we have no control of but are part of our human nature, while others occur because of a choice. However, while humans may choose to do an action, they often do not intend for this to remain as a habit. The chapter considers habit from a physical point of view, examining the principles at a mechanical level that cause habits to become ingrained, and to form in the first place. Often habits can be thought of as a human trait. They are something that grows from repeated action to an extent that they can occur without intent. Some habits are innate, inherent in our genetic structure and may be an indication of earlier times for our species. Such habits include the rush of adrenaline when in danger or looking for exits when entering a new area. Other habits are more connected to our society, with smoking and alcohol drinking often considered to be strong bad habits. Habits however are not limited to humans. Rather “…the laws of habits are nothing but the immutable habits which the different elementary sorts of matter follow…” . Thus habits can be applied at all levels of matter and energy. For example, a particle of matter can be considered to have habits, as James himself considers, although these habits are unchangeable, much like the particle itself. In contrast, an organism or more complex collection of matter is able to change, and consequently its habits are not static. A term that can be used in this case is plasticity. This word can be applied both to physical and organic systems, and suggests a structure that is able to be influenced and changed, but that retains the strength not to change all at one time. James proposes that it is this plasticity at the level of matter that underlies the ability of living organisms to develop habits . Thus, we form habits because the systems in our body are formed in such a way to encourage many types of repeated action. Within living organisms, the level at which habits are formed also varies. A scar can be considered a form of habit. Wherever the body forms a scar, this location is more vulnerable than other parts of the body, even those nearby, and thus feels pain when other parts do not, is more sensitive to temperature and injury. Many diseases too show the behavior of habit. They are dominant in the system simply because they are present, providing a self-reinforcing cycle. The application of treatment or medication is often sufficient to break this cycle. Finally, and perhaps most evidently, habits form at the level of the brain. These are not the consequence of physical strain or pressure but of paths within the nerve centers, which follow each other in a string of action. Thus, when one action along the path is taken it is difficult to prevent the subsequent actions from occurring. Many reflex habits can be explained in this manner, such as nail biting or brushing hair behind the ears. Some habits however are formed initially from the conscious action, or formed de novo as James suggests. This can be likened to trampling a path through high grass. At first ...Show more


Human life is a phenomenon which is bound by many things. Thought and actions determine the life of a person and hence the internal or mental aspects which affect the way that we perform these parts play an essential role in life…
Author : emmettokeefe
William James : Habit (From The Principles of Psychology) essay example
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