Findings from the study suggest that there's a way to hack your brain to form good habits, such as working out daily and sleeping early. This is by repeating these actions until they stick.
Dr. Elliot Ludvig from Warwick's Department of Psychology and his fellow researchers used a digital model to show how forming habits, both good and bad, depends more on how often you perform certain actions than on how much satisfaction you get from them.
For the study, the researchers created a computer simulation where digital rodents were given a choice of two levers. One lever was associated with the chance of getting a reward. This lever was considered the "correct" choice while the lever without a reward was the "wrong" choice.
The researchers switched the chance of getting a reward between the two levers and trained the simulated rodents to choose the "correct" lever.
The researchers reported that after a short time, the rodents were able to choose the new, "correct" lever even when the chance of reward was swapped. But when the digital rats were trained extensively on one lever, they kept choosing the ''wrong" lever despite it not giving them a chance to receive a reward.
The research team found that the digital rodents preferred to stick to the repeated action that they were accustomed to instead of getting rewarded.
Dr. Ludvig explained that most of what humans do are driven by habits. However, there is much to understand about how habits are learned and formed.
He said that the study reveals new information about this by building a mathematical model of how simple repetition can result in the various habits people and other animals have.
Dr. Amitai Shenhav, coauthor of the study, noted that for more than a century, psychologists have tried to understand what drives the habits of humans. One of the recurring questions is how much habits are influenced by what people want compared to what they do.
The experiment with digital rats helped answer this question by suggesting that habits themselves are a product of previous actions. However, in some situations, those habits can be overruled by the desire to get the best outcome.
The researchers believe that this study can help experts learn more about certain conditions associated with repetitive behavior, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and tic disorder.
Their next study will involve similar experiments in a real-world scenario, where they will observe human behavior in action-based versus reward-based tests.
If you want to take advantage of this brain "hacking" discovery, here are some healthy habits to start practicing daily:
If you want your brain to learn and stick to good habits, be more disciplined and make healthier choices whenever you can.