Why Do We Stick to Bad Habits?
Scientists always have a lot of questions. One question they’ve been thinking about is why some people keep doing things that hurt them.
Why do some people have a hard time quitting bad habits? Some researchers think it could be because they don’t understand the link between what they do and what happens as a result.
Psychologists from UNSW Sydney and Western Sydney University decided to investigate this. They did a study and found something interesting. People who keep doing things that hurt them may not be stubborn.
They might just have a problem with learning why they are getting hurt. They come up with logical but wrong reasons for their problems.
The Space Game
To learn more about this, the psychologists created an experiment. They made a simple video game about trading in outer space. Young adults played this game.
They clicked on two planets to earn points. If they got a lot of points, they could win real money.
But here’s the catch. Clicking the planets could also cause spaceships to appear. Clicking one planet would bring out a pirate ship that would steal their points. But the other planet’s ships were harmless.
Results of the Game
The people who did best in the game were the ones who figured out the trick. They realized that clicking the ‘bad’ planet would bring out the pirate ship. So, they stopped clicking that planet. These people were called ‘sensitives’.
However, not everyone figured it out. Even after playing a few rounds, some people still clicked the ‘bad’ planet. They didn’t realize that it was causing the pirate ship to appear.
What’s more, even after the researchers told them about the trick, some people kept clicking the ‘bad’ planet. They were called ‘compulsives’. They were the focus of the study.
What Does This Mean?
The researchers say this experiment shows something important about our thinking. Usually, when people can’t stop doing harmful things, we think of two reasons. Either they really want what they are after, like with addiction. Or they can’t control their actions.
But this study suggests another reason. It’s that some people have a hard time understanding that their actions have bad outcomes.
This can be even harder to see when bad outcomes don’t happen often. This is true for everyone, not just people with addictions or risky behaviors.
Harmful Behaviors to Watch Out For
Here are some types of harmful behaviors that can hurt us or make us suffer:
- Drug or alcohol abuse: Using too much drugs or alcohol can harm our health and relationships.
- Eating disorders: Not eating properly can lead to health problems.
- Self-harm: Hurting oneself can lead to infection, scarring, or even death.
- Risky sexual behavior: Not being careful during sexual activities can cause infections or unwanted pregnancies.
- Gambling addiction: Gambling too much can cause financial problems and emotional stress.
- Working too much: Overworking can make us neglect our health and relationships.
- Trying to be perfect: Setting too high standards for ourselves can cause stress and burnout.
- Avoiding people: Staying away from people can lead to loneliness and mental health problems.
- Doing dangerous things: Risky behaviors like speeding can be life-threatening.
These behaviors can hurt our health and well-being. If you or someone you know is showing these behaviors, you should seek help. It could be a sign of mental health problems.
Keep Learning About Mental Health
For those interested in mental health, look into studies about high doses of a common depression drug and how it might turn off the brain. Also, consider how Vitamin D might reduce depression symptoms.
For more general health information, check out studies about how fermented foods can reduce stress, and how the MIND diet can improve brain health in older people.
The details of this study were shared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
If you care about depression, please read studies about how dairy foods may influence depression risk, and old mental drugs may be a new way to treat type 2 diabetes.
For more information about mental health, please see recent studies that ultra-processed foods may make you feel depressed, and extra-virgin olive oil could reduce depression symptoms.
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