Washington: An international team of researchers has revealed how the brain makes and breaks a habit.
Working with a mouse model, the University of California San Diego team demonstrated what happens in the brain for habits to control behavior.
Team leader Christina Gremel said that the study provides the strongest evidence to date that the brain’s circuits for habitual and goal-directed action compete for control, in the orbitofrontal cortex, a decision-making area of the brain, and that neurochemicals called endocannabinoids allow for habit to take over, by acting as a sort of brake on the goal-directed circuit.
“We need a balance between habitual and goal-directed actions. For everyday function, we need to be able to make routine actions quickly and efficiently, and habits serve this purpose,” Gremel said. “However, we also encounter changing circumstances, and need the capacity to ‘break habits’ and perform a goal-directed action based on updated information. When we can’t, there can be devastating consequences.”
The findings may suggest, the authors say, a new therapeutic target for people suffering from OCD or addictions: To stop overreliance on habit and restore the ability to shift from habit to goal-directed action, it may be helpful to treat the brain’s endocannabinoid system and so reduce habitual control over behavior. Treatment could be pharmaceutical or might involve behavioral therapy. Further research is needed.
The study is published in Neuron. (ANI)