Habits form a crucial component of behavior. In recent years, key computational models have conceptualized habits as arising from model-free reinforcement learning (RL) mechanisms, which typically select between available actions based on the future value expected to result from each. Traditionally, however, habits have been understood as behaviors that can be triggered directly by a stimulus, without requiring the animal to evaluate expected outcomes. Here, we develop a computational model instantiating this traditional view, in which habits develop through the direct strengthening of recently taken actions rather than through the encoding of outcomes. We demonstrate that this model accounts for key behavioral manifestations of habits, including insensitivity to outcome devaluation and contingency degradation, as well as the effects of reinforcement schedule on the rate of habit formation. The model also explains the prevalent observation of perseveration in repeated-choice tasks as an additional behavioral manifestation of the habit system. We suggest that mapping habitual behaviors onto value-free mechanisms provides a parsimonious account of existing behavioral and neural data. This mapping may provide a new foundation for building robust and comprehensive models of the interaction of habits with other, more goal-directed types of behaviors and help to better guide research into the neural mechanisms underlying control of instrumental behavior more generally.
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