Compulsivity has been recently characterized as a manifestation of an imbalance between the brain׳s goal-directed and habit-learning systems. Habits are perhaps the most fundamental building block of animal learning, and it is therefore unsurprising that there are multiple ways in which the development and execution of habits can be promoted/discouraged. Delineating these neurocognitive routes may be critical to understanding if and how habits contribute to the many faces of compulsivity observed across a range of psychiatric disorders. In this review, we distinguish the contribution of excessive stimulus-response habit learning from that of deficient goal-directed control over action and response inhibition, and discuss the role of stress and anxiety as likely contributors to the transition from goal-directed action to habit. To this end, behavioural, pharmacological, neurobiological and clinical evidence are synthesised and a hypothesis is formulated to capture how habits fit into a model of compulsivity as a trans-diagnostic psychiatric trait
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)828-840
JournalEuropean neuropsychopharmacology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 2016


  • Compulsivity
  • Goal-directed
  • Habit
  • Learning
  • OCD

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