Scientists find a big cause of self-destructive behavior

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The link between our actions and the consequences they produce is a fundamental concept that most people learn at an early age.

However, new research suggests that some people may struggle to understand this connection, which could be a key factor in why they find it difficult to give up harmful habits.

The study was conducted by psychologists at UNSW Sydney and Western Sydney University.

They found that people who persistently engage in behavior that causes them harm may not be unwilling to change, but instead may have a learning problem where they create logical but ultimately incorrect explanations for why they are suffering.

To investigate this further, the psychologists designed an experiment where young adult volunteers played a simple video game with an intergalactic space trade theme.

Participants clicked on two planets to amass points, which put them in the running to win a monetary prize.

Unbeknownst to the participants, clicking either planet led to a similar amount of reward, but could also result in the emergence of different spaceships.

Clicking on one planet would trigger a pirate ship that would steal large chunks of their winnings, whereas the ships triggered by the other planet were harmless.

The researchers found that the individuals who did best in the game – who they deemed the “sensitives” – were those who made the link between choosing the “bad” planet and the pirate ship and adjusted their behavior to avoid clicking on this planet entirely.

However, after a few rounds of the game, there was still a big portion of people who had not yet connected the dots between choosing the bad planet and the emergence of the pirate ship.

Once it was revealed to them, mid-game, that clicking the bad planet led to punishing consequences, most people adjusted their behavior to avoid losing their loot.

But the researchers were fascinated by the subset of individuals who continued to choose the planet that delivered the pirate ship, despite being warned of the consequences.

These people were deemed “compulsives” and were the focus of the study.

The team says the experiment highlights new ideas about what is going on at the cognitive level.

Self-destructive behaviors that are difficult to shift are commonly attributed to two explanations:

The person simply values what they’re pursuing above all else – such in the case of drug, alcohol or gambling addiction – or their compulsions are occurring outside their control or awareness.

Part of the problem, the researchers say, is that when adverse consequences or punishment occurs rarely, it’s easier to continue to engage in behavior that carries a risk.

This is by no means limited to people who have addictions, engage in reckless behavior, or are driven compulsively. It can include all of us.

9 types of self-destructive behavior

Self-destructive behavior refers to actions that harm oneself, either intentionally or unintentionally, and can have negative consequences for one’s physical or mental health, relationships, and overall well-being.

Here are some examples of self-destructive behavior:

Substance abuse: This includes the use of drugs or alcohol in excessive amounts or in a way that leads to addiction. Substance abuse can have a negative impact on physical health, emotional well-being, and relationships.

Eating disorders: This includes anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. Eating disorders can lead to malnutrition, dehydration, gastrointestinal problems, and other physical and emotional health issues.

Self-harm: This includes cutting, burning, or injuring oneself in other ways. Self-harm is often used as a coping mechanism for emotional pain, but it can lead to infection, scarring, and even death.

Risky sexual behavior: This includes engaging in unprotected sex or having multiple sexual partners without taking proper precautions. This behavior can lead to sexually transmitted infections, unintended pregnancies, and emotional distress.

Gambling addiction: This includes engaging in gambling activities in an excessive and compulsive way, even when it causes financial problems and emotional distress.

Workaholism: This includes working excessively and compulsively, often to the point of neglecting one’s health, relationships, and other important aspects of life.

Perfectionism: This includes setting unrealistic standards for oneself and striving for perfection in all areas of life. Perfectionism can lead to anxiety, depression, and burnout.

Self-isolation: This includes avoiding social situations and withdrawing from relationships, often due to fear or anxiety. Self-isolation can lead to loneliness, depression, and other mental health issues.

Reckless behavior: This includes engaging in activities that are dangerous or life-threatening, such as driving under the influence, speeding, or participating in extreme sports without proper training or equipment.

These are just a few examples of self-destructive behavior, and there are many other types that can have a negative impact on one’s health and well-being.

It’s important to seek help if you or someone you know is engaging in self-destructive behavior, as it can be a sign of an underlying mental health issue that requires treatment.

If you care about mental health, please read studies that high doses of common depression drug could switch off the brain, and Vitamin D could help reduce depression symptoms.

For more information about health, please see recent studies that fermented foods could help you reduce stress, and MIND diet could improve cognitive health in older people.

The study was conducted by Philip Jean-Richard-dit-Bressel et al and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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