Research shows big cause of self-harm

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Many of us have habits we wish we could break, whether it’s reaching for that extra cookie or spending too much time on social media.

We often hear about the importance of willpower and the need to understand the consequences of our actions.

This concept, while simple in theory, proves more complex in practice, especially for those who find it particularly hard to shake off harmful habits.

Recent research from psychologists at UNSW Sydney and Western Sydney University sheds light on why some people continue behaviors that hurt them.

It’s not always about stubbornness or a lack of desire to change. Instead, the issue might lie in a learning difficulty where individuals form incorrect explanations for their suffering.

To delve deeper into this, the researchers devised a clever experiment using a video game set in space, where participants clicked on planets to gather points and win a monetary reward.

However, clicking on certain planets could summon pirate ships that stole their winnings, while other planets were safe. Interestingly, while some quickly learned to avoid the “bad” planets, others struggled to make the connection, even after being told about the consequences.

This led the researchers to categorize the participants into two groups: “sensitives,” who adjusted their actions based on outcomes, and “compulsives,” who persisted in their behavior despite knowing the negative consequences.

This distinction offers a new perspective on cognitive processes underlying self-destructive behaviors, which are often attributed to either a high value placed on the harmful behavior (as seen in addictions) or actions that occur without the individual’s conscious control.

The study points out that infrequent negative consequences can make it easier to continue risky behaviors, a pattern not exclusive to addictions or compulsive actions but something that can affect anyone.

Self-destructive behaviors span a wide range, from substance abuse and eating disorders to risky sexual behavior and workaholism.

These actions, whether intentional or not, can harm one’s health, relationships, and overall well-being. Recognizing these behaviors is crucial, as they can indicate deeper mental health issues needing attention.

For those interested in mental health, this study emphasizes the importance of understanding the complexity of behavior change and the need for personalized support and intervention.

It’s a reminder that breaking bad habits is not just a matter of willpower but understanding and addressing the underlying cognitive processes.

Philip Jean-Richard-dit-Bressel and his team’s research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, offers valuable insights into the cognitive challenges some individuals face in recognizing and responding to the consequences of their actions.

It highlights the importance of seeking help for self-destructive behaviors, which can be a sign of underlying issues requiring professional treatment.

If you care about depression, please read studies about how dairy foods may influence depression risk, and B vitamins could help prevent depression and anxiety.

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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