Good habits can be formed by simply hacking our brain to repeat actions until we stick to them, reports a new study. The findings of the study are published in the journal Psychological Review.
The researchers developed a computer simulation, in which digital rodents were given a choice of two levers, one of which was associated with the chance of getting a reward. The lever with the reward was the 'correct' one, and the lever without was the 'wrong' one.
‘A new study finds that forming good or bad habits depends more on how often we perform an activity than on how much satisfaction we get from it.’
The chance of getting a reward was swapped between the two levers, and the simulated rodents were trained to choose the 'correct' one.
When the digital rodents were trained for a short time, they managed to choose the new, 'correct' lever when the chance of reward was swapped. However, when they were trained extensively on one lever, the digital rats stuck to the 'wrong' lever stubbornly, even when it no longer had the chance for reward.
The rodents preferred to stick to the repeated action that they were used to, rather than have the chance for a reward.
Dr. Elliot Ludvig, Associate Professor in the University of Warwick's Department of Psychology and one of the paper's authors, commented:
"Much of what we do is driven by habits, yet how habits are learned and formed is still somewhat mysterious. Our work sheds new light on this question by building a mathematical model of how simple repetition can lead to the types of habits we see in people and other creatures. "
Dr. Amitai Shenhav, Assistant Professor at Brown University's Department of Cognitive, Linguistic, and Psychological Sciences and one of the paper's authors, commented:
"Psychologists have been trying to understand what drives our habits for over a century, and one of the recurring questions is how much habits are a product of what we want versus what we do. Our model helps to answer that by suggesting that habits themselves are a product of our previous actions, but in certain situations, those habits can be supplanted by our desire to get the best outcome."
This research opens up a better understanding of conditions like Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Tic Disorder - both of which are characterized by repetitive behaviors.
The next stage will be to conduct similar experiments in a real-world scenario, observing human behavior in action-based versus reward-based tests.