- George Zimmerman will not be charged in domestic dispute
- Russian officials press bilateral U.S. trade deal
- Selfies at Funerals blog creator retires after Obama flub: ‘Our work here is done’
- New Obama adviser Podesta is against Keystone but will steer clear of pipeline deliberations
- 40 Australian adults, children found in ‘one of the worst accounts of incest ever made public’
- Venezuela’s Maduro calls on student ‘price vigilantes’ to hit the streets, report businesses
- Atheists smug as Hindus join Satanists to demand display at Oklahoma Statehouse
- Bow before Valkyrie, NASA’s ‘superhero robot’ entry in DARPA challenge
- 10-year-old Pennsylvania boy suspended for pretend bow-and-arrow shooting
- Tea partyers turn on Capitol Hill budget deal
New Year’s resolutions? Brain can sabotage success
Question of the Day
WASHINGTON (AP) - Uh-oh, the new year’s just begun and already you’re finding it hard to keep those resolutions to junk the junk food, get off the couch or kick smoking. There’s a biological reason a lot of our bad habits are so hard to break _ they get wired into our brains.
That’s not an excuse to give up. Understanding how unhealthy behaviors become ingrained has scientists learning some tricks that may help good habits replace the bad.
“Why are bad habits stronger? You’re fighting against the power of an immediate reward,” says Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse and an authority on the brain’s pleasure pathway.
It’s the fudge vs. broccoli choice: Chocolate’s yum factor tends to beat out the knowledge that sticking with veggies brings an eventual reward of lost pounds.
“We all as creatures are hard-wired that way, to give greater value to an immediate reward as opposed to something that’s delayed,” Volkow says.
Just how that bit of happiness turns into a habit involves a pleasure-sensing chemical named dopamine. It conditions the brain to want that reward again and again _ reinforcing the connection each time _ especially when it gets the right cue from your environment.
People tend to overestimate their ability to resist temptations around them, thus undermining attempts to shed bad habits, says experimental psychologist Loran Nordgren, an assistant professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.
“People have this self-control hubris, this belief they can handle more than they can,” says Nordgren, who studies the tug-of-war between willpower and temptation.
In one experiment, he measured whether heavy smokers could watch a film that romanticizes the habit _ called “Coffee and Cigarettes” _ without taking a puff. Upping the ante, they’d be paid according to their level of temptation: Could they hold an unlit cigarette while watching? Keep the pack on the table? Or did they need to leave the pack in another room?
Smokers who’d predicted they could resist a lot of temptation tended to hold the unlit cigarette _ and were more likely to light up than those who knew better than to hang onto the pack, says Nordgren. He now is beginning to study how recovering drug addicts deal with real-world temptations.
But temptation can be more insidious than how close at hand the cigarettes are.
Always snack in front of your favorite TV show? A dopamine-rich part of the brain named the striatum memorizes rituals and routines that are linked to getting a particular reward, explains NIDA’s Volkow. Eventually, those environmental cues trigger the striatum to make some behaviors almost automatic.
Even scientists who recognize it can fall prey.
“I don’t like popcorn. But every time I go to the cinema, I have to eat it,” Volkow says. “It’s fascinating.”
Much of what scientists know about dopamine’s role in habit formation comes from the study of alcohol and drug addiction, but it’s a key player in more common habits, too, especially overeating.
An unlikely conservative hero could emerge from the budget cave
- Rand Paul: Budget deal 'shameful,' 'huge mistake'
- Teen thugs in D.C. run wild -- even while wearing GPS ankle bracelets
- Obama takes 'selfie' at Mandela's funeral service
- CARSON: Why did the founders give us the Second Amendment?
- VEGAS RULES: Harry Reid pushed feds to change ruling for casino's big-money foreigners
- Biden guarantees victory on immigration reform
- MILLER: Dick Heller challenges D.C.s gun registration, files for summary judgment in Heller II
- American bourbon now better than Scottish whisky: U.K.-born expert
- Tea partyers turn on Capitol Hill budget deal
- Leon Panetta named as source of 'Zero Dark Thirty' scriptwriters information
Independent voices from the The Washington Times Communities
Interviews and show reviews from the Los Angeles punk scene past and present. Los Angeles has always been rich in punk rock talent since punk rock was born.
Buzz on Bees is a column promoting the love and life of God’s greatest pollinators on earth: The Honeybee
Brazen, leading-edge, “call it like it is” columns and reporting from Ohio native, radio host and writer, Sara Marie Brenner.
A libertarian look at breaking news and political trends by author Tom Mullen.
Extraordinary day at Redskins Park
White House pets gone wild!
Let it snow