Why Habits Are So Hard To Break

Written by on January 26, 2016 in Sci-Tech, Science with 5 Comments
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DARPA Brain Memory Stimulator

By Kristen Ade | Science Daily

Taming that sweet tooth for your New Year's resolution might be harder than you think. New research suggests that forming a habit leaves a lasting mark on specific circuits in the brain, which in turn seems to prime us to further feed our cravings. The research deepens scientists' understanding of how habits manifest and may suggest new strategies for breaking the bad ones.

By now, you might have discovered that taming your sweet tooth as a New Year's resolution is harder than you think.


New research by Duke University scientists suggests that a habit leaves a lasting mark on specific circuits in the brain, priming us to feed our cravings.

Published online Jan. 21 in the journal Neuron, the research deepens scientists' understanding of how habits like sugar and other vices manifest in the brain and suggests new strategies for breaking them.

“One day, we may be able to target these circuits in people to help promote habits that we want and kick out those that we don't want,” said the study's senior investigator Nicole Calakos, M.D., Ph.D., an associate professor of neurology and neurobiology at the Duke University Medical Center.

Calakos, an expert in the brain's adaptability, teamed up with Henry Yin, an expert in animal models of habit behavior in Duke's department of psychology and neuroscience. Both scientists are also members of the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences.

Their groups trained otherwise healthy mice to form sugar habits of varying severity, a process that entailed pressing a lever to receive tiny sweets. The animals that became hooked kept pressing the lever even after the treats were removed.

The researchers then compared the brains of mice that had formed a habit to the ones that didn't. In particular, the team studied electrical activity in the basal ganglia, a complex network of brain areas that controls motor actions and compulsive behaviors, including drug addiction.

In the basal ganglia, two main types of paths carry opposing messages: One carries a ‘go' signal which spurs an action, the other a ‘stop' signal.

Experiments by Duke neurobiology graduate student Justin O'Hare found that the stop and go pathways were both more active in the sugar-habit mice. O'Hare said he didn't expect to see the stop signal equally ramped up in the habit brains, because it has been traditionally viewed as the factor that helps prevent a behavior.

The team also discovered a change in the timing of activation in the two pathways. In mice that had formed a habit, the go pathway turned on before the stop pathway. In non-habit brains, the stop signal preceded the go.

These changes in the brain circuitry were so long-lasting and obvious that it was possible for the group to predict which mice had formed a habit just by looking at isolated pieces of their brains in a petri dish.

Scientists have previously noted that these opposing basal ganglia pathways seem to be in a race, though no one has shown that a habit gives the go pathway a head start. O'Hare said that's because the go and stop signals had not been studied in the same brain at the same time. But new labeling strategies used by the Duke scientists allowed researchers to measure activity across dozens of neurons in both pathways simultaneously, in the same animal.

“The go pathway's head start makes sense,” said Calakos. “It could prime the animal to be more likely to engage in the behavior.” The researchers are testing this idea, as well as investigating how the rearrangements in activity occur in the first place.

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  1. 998120423577731@facebook.com' Sukha Bhucho Sukhdev says:

    Its a sucide mission ..why people hav to do these weird acts for peace of mind , for papularty …when we have all the shit to keep us warm in this bone numbing chill then why we need to do that if u practice for something individually then why we post this here ??? That is totally insane ..i don’t understand the perpous

    • 10205670694704671@facebook.com' Dave Kenney says:

      the purpose is arriving at a sense of sanity, harmony, peace, happiness, fulfillment ……

    • 998120423577731@facebook.com' Sukha Bhucho Sukhdev says:

      Dave Kenney sir but for this there are other more ways to achive this then why we wanted to get sanity , harmony , peace by given third degree to our body ,,, it’s creazy

  2. 10205670694704671@facebook.com' Dave Kenney says:

    start practicing the most loving actions and face the truth about the unlovingness of the attitudes of the old ones. Watch your thoughts, they become your beliefs. Watch your beliefs, they become your actions. Watch your actions, they become your habits. Watch your habits, they become your destiny. Namaste!

  3. 10207997883443072@facebook.com' Mary Irene McGinnis says:

    I wasn’t raised Catholic. My church of origin as well as other dominations of the Christian faith did a pretty good number on some of ,us also. It seemed like everything was a “sin” when I was a youngster- shaving legs, wearing nylons, dancing, etc. Looking back I see it as a form of social control and a healthy dose of misogyny rather than a spiritual or faith based principle.

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