Dr Sanne de Wit


Whilst our actions are often goal-directed, slips of action reveal that automatic, or habitual, mechanisms can take over. Although the concepts of goal-directed action and habits are well-grounded in folk psychology, most empirical research so far has taken place in the field of animal learning rather than human decision-making. I therefore develop learning and response priming tasks -based on animal models- to investigate the associative and motivational mechanisms mediating goal-directed and habitual actions in humans and I use the technique of fMRI to study the neural substrates. My current research also focuses on disruptions of instrumental learning mechanisms (e.g. in Parkinson's Disease, obesity, addiction and obsessive-compulsive disorder).

Research Focus


goal-directed action


cognitive control

associative theory


Clinical conditions


Eating disorders

Obsessive compulsive disorder

Parkinson's disease



Behavioural analysis

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

Neuropsychological testing



Anthony Dickinson

Paul Fletcher

Trevor Robbins


Roshan Cools Web: http://www.roshancools.com/

Richard Ridderinkhof Web: http://www.acacialab.nl/

Reinout Wiers Web: http://home.medewerker.uva.nl/r.w.h.j...

Associated News Items

    Key publications

    de Wit S, Corlett PR, Aitken MR, Dickinson A, Fletcher PC (2009), “Differential engagement of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex by goal-directed and habitual behavior toward food pictures in humans.” J Neurosci 29(36):11330-8 Details

    de Wit S, Dickinson A (2009), “Associative theories of goal-directed behaviour: a case for animal-human translational models.” Psychol Res 73(4):463-76 Details

    de Wit S, Niry D, Wariyar R, Aitken M, Dickinson A (2007), “Stimulus-Outcome interactions during instrumental discrimination learning by humans and rats” Journal of Experimental Psychology Animal Behavior 33(1):1-11 Details

    de Wit S, Kosaki Y, Balleine BW, Dickinson A (2006), “Dorsomedial prefrontal cortex resolves response conflict in rats” Journal of Neuroscience 26(19):5224-5229 Details



    de Wit S, van de Vijver I, Ridderinkhof KR (2014), “Impaired acquisition of goal-directed action in healthy aging.” Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci 14(2):647-58 Details


    Sjoerds Z, de Wit S, van den Brink W, Robbins TW, Beekman AT, Penninx BW, Veltman DJ (2013), “Behavioral and neuroimaging evidence for overreliance on habit learning in alcohol-dependent patients.” Transl Psychiatry 3:e337 Details