An exciting new study published recently in the journal Neuron has shown more specifically how the brain creates and breaks habits. Using a mouse model, the researchers demonstrated that there is a competition for control between the brain’s circuits for habitual (automatic) behaviour vs. goal directed action (deliberate decision making).
In daily life we want a balance between these two actions – habits to help us make routine actions promptly and without using up too much cognitive energy, as well as the ability to choose particular actions in response to changing information in our environment.
In the study, the researchers found that mice who were lacking a particular neurochemical receptor (cannabinoid type 1) did not form habits. While further research is needed to test this finding in humans, it is likely that by targeting the brain’s endocannabinoid system, it may be possible to break habitual control over behaviours that are unhelpful or unwanted.
Read the study: http://www.cell.com/neuron/fulltext/S0896-6273%2816%2930157-X