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Habit, custom, and power: A multi-level theory of population health


  • Zimmerman, Frederick J.


In multi-level theory, individual behavior flows from cognitive habits, either directly through social referencing, rules of thumb, or automatic behaviors; or indirectly through the shaping of rationality itself by framing or heuristics. Although behavior does not arise from individually rational optimization, it generally appears to be rational, because the cognitive habits that guide behavior evolve toward optimality. However, power imbalances shaped by particular social, political, and economic structures can distort this evolution, leading to individual behavior that fails to maximize individual or social well-being. Replacing the dominant rational-choice paradigm with a multi-level theoretical paradigm involving habit, custom, and power will enable public health to engage in rigorous new areas of research.

Suggested Citation

  • Zimmerman, Frederick J., 2013. "Habit, custom, and power: A multi-level theory of population health," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 80(C), pages 47-56.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:80:y:2013:i:c:p:47-56
    DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2012.12.029

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    6. David M. Cutler & Edward L. Glaeser & Jesse M. Shapiro, 2003. "Why Have Americans Become More Obese?," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 17(3), pages 93-118, Summer.
    7. Twomey, Paul, 1998. "Reviving Veblenian Economic Psychology," Cambridge Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 22(4), pages 433-448, July.
    8. Hodgson, Geoffrey M., 2004. "Reclaiming habit for institutional economics," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 25(5), pages 651-660, October.
    9. Geoffrey M. Hodgson, 2008. "An institutional and evolutionary perspective on health economics," Cambridge Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 32(2), pages 235-256, March.
    10. J. W. Stoelhorst, 2008. "The explanatory logic and ontological commitments of generalized Darwinism," Journal of Economic Methodology, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 15(4), pages 343-363.
    11. repec:aph:ajpbhl:10.2105/ajph.2010.300086_5 is not listed on IDEAS
    12. Richard M. Dawson, 1994. "The Shacklean Nature of Commons’s Reasonable Value," Journal of Post Keynesian Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 17(1), pages 33-44, September.
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    15. Martikainen, Pekka & Brunner, Eric & Marmot, Michael, 2003. "Socioeconomic differences in dietary patterns among middle-aged men and women," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 56(7), pages 1397-1410, April.
    16. Bromley, Daniel W., 2008. "Volitional pragmatism," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 68(1-2), pages 1-13, December.
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    Cited by:

    1. Pound, Pandora & Campbell, Rona, 2015. "Exploring the feasibility of theory synthesis: A worked example in the field of health related risk-taking," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 124(C), pages 57-65.


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