October 19, 2005 2:31 PM PDT

MIT explains why bad habits are hard to break

Old habits don't die. They hibernate.

Habitual activity--smoking, eating fatty foods, gambling--changes neural activity patterns in a specific region of the brain when habits are formed. These neural patterns created by habit can be changed or altered. But when a stimulus from the old days returns, the dormant pattern can reassert itself, according to a new study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, putting an individual in a neural state akin to being on autopilot.

"It is as though, somehow, the brain retains a memory of the habit context, and this pattern can be triggered if the right habit cues come back," Ann Graybiel, the Walter A. Rosenblith professor of neuroscience in MIT's Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, said in a statement. "This situation is familiar to anyone who is trying to lose weight or to control a well-engrained habit. Just the sight of a piece of chocolate can reset all those good intentions," Graybiel said.

The neural patterns get established in the basal ganglia, a brain region critical to habits, addiction and procedural learning. In Graybiel's experiments, rats learned via specific cues that there was chocolate at one end of a T-shaped maze. While the rats were still learning, their basal ganglia neurons chattered throughout the maze run. That's because in the early stages, the brain seeks out and soaks in information that could prove important.

As the rats learned to focus in on guiding cues (in the experiment, an audible tone that guided them toward the chocolate), the behavior of the neurons changed. They fired intensely at the beginning and the end, but remained relatively quiet while the rats scurried through the maze.

Subsequently, the reward was removed. While the audible cue became meaningless, everything in the maze from beginning to end became relevant again. The neurons fired throughout the run. But when the reward reappeared, the pattern of beginning and ending spikes separated by downtime reappeared.

Sound familiar?

Graybiel speculated that the beginning and ending spike patterns reflect the nature of a routine behavior. Once initiated, individuals essentially know what to do next. Excitement returns when the reward appears. While the neural patterns can be created through voluntary activity, this sort of pattern also appears in certain disorders. Parkinson's patients, for instance, have difficulty starting to walk, and obsessive-compulsive people have trouble stopping incessant behavior.

Ideally, the research will help scientists come up with new techniques for more firmly changing habitual or addictive behavior.

A more full report will be published in the Oct. 20 issue of Nature. The National Institute of Health and the Office of Naval Research supported the research.

18 comments

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Another bad habit...
Using Internet Explorer. >_>
Posted by Streeks (5 comments )
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Another bad habit...
Using Internet Explorer. >_>
Posted by Streeks (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Another bad habit...
Using Internet Explorer.
Posted by Streeks (5 comments )
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And another one...
... dumb posts
Posted by aemarques (162 comments )
Link Flag
Another bad habit...
Using Internet Explorer.
Posted by Streeks (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
And another one...
... dumb posts
Posted by aemarques (162 comments )
Link Flag
Habits are hard habit to break!
Yes, breaking the "habit" or as I called it the "habit points" in my
day when I smoked cigarettes, was far more difficult than the
withdrawal for me personally. Changing places I went, doing things
in other manners was the key for me. I always had this bugging
feeling I was forgetting to do something all of the time. It was and
still is a strange feeling at times.
Posted by iDuck (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Habits are hard habit to break!
Yes, breaking the "habit" or as I called it the "habit points" in my
day when I smoked cigarettes, was far more difficult than the
withdrawal for me personally. Changing places I went, doing things
in other manners was the key for me. I always had this bugging
feeling I was forgetting to do something all of the time. It was and
still is a strange feeling at times.
Posted by iDuck (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
more info
I would appreciate if you can e mail me articles related to this topic. thank you
Posted by argee (2 comments )
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more info
I would appreciate if you can e mail me articles related to this topic. thank you
Posted by argee (2 comments )
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request more information
I too would like more information on this subject.
Thank you
Posted by meod94 (2 comments )
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request more information
I too would like more information on this subject.
Thank you
Posted by meod94 (2 comments )
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What About Money?
I have a bad Habit of Spending money.
I was checking www.bustnghabitsout.com and it seems to be a good book.
Has any1 Read it before
Posted by bishop005 (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
What About Money?
I have a bad Habit of Spending money.
I was checking www.bustnghabitsout.com and it seems to be a good book.
Has any1 Read it before
Posted by bishop005 (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Break your bad habits at HiddenHabits.com
While bad habits will always be hard to break, it helps to find others who do the same to help you cope. You can start coping at <a href="http://www.hiddenhabits.com">HiddenHabits.com</a>.
Posted by HiddenHabits (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Break your bad habits at HiddenHabits.com
While bad habits will always be hard to break, it helps to find others who do the same to help you cope. You can start coping at <a href="http://www.hiddenhabits.com">HiddenHabits.com</a>.
Posted by HiddenHabits (2 comments )
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habitguide.com -- tackle habits head on
We found when writing our ebook 'Habit Guide' that the best approach is to tackle habits head on. Make them conscious and plan... There are lots of techniques you can use to master habits.
Posted by passionforhealth (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
habitguide.com -- tackle habits head on
We found when writing our ebook 'Habit Guide' that the best approach is to tackle habits head on. Make them conscious and plan... There are lots of techniques you can use to master habits.
Posted by passionforhealth (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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