Scientists find the cause of harmful habits

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Once we learn that actions have consequences, it’s something we carry with us for life.

Yet, intriguingly, some people have a tough time grasping this basic concept, especially when it involves breaking bad habits.

Researchers from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) Sydney and Western Sydney University embarked on a study to delve deeper into this issue.

Their research proposes that the difficulty some people have in quitting harmful behaviors may stem not from a lack of will but from a cognitive learning challenge. These individuals often form logical, albeit incorrect, reasons for their suffering.

The experiment set up by the psychologists was quite creative. They asked young adults to participate in a straightforward video game themed around intergalactic space trade.

The game was simple: players clicked on two different planets to accumulate points, competing for a monetary prize. However, the game had a twist unknown to the players.

Though both planets awarded similar points, clicking them could trigger different outcomes. Clicking one planet would unleash a pirate ship that swooped in and took a large portion of their points, whereas the other planet’s effect was benign.

The study revealed that some players, called “sensitives,” quickly noticed the link between the pirate ship and the planet causing it.

They adapted their strategy to avoid the problematic planet. However, a significant number of participants continued to click the harmful planet without making the connection, even after several rounds.

Midway through the game, the researchers informed all players about the negative consequences of choosing the harmful planet. Most players then changed their strategy to protect their points.

Yet, the focus of the study was on a small group who persistently chose the harmful option, despite knowing the repercussions. These “compulsives” provided a unique insight into the cognitive processes behind self-destructive behavior.

Commonly, self-destructive actions are explained in two ways: either the individual values the pursuit more than anything else, or they are driven by compulsions outside their conscious control.

However, the researchers suggested that infrequent consequences make it easier for someone to continue engaging in risky behaviors, a situation applicable not only to individuals with addictions but to everyone at some point.

Self-destructive behaviors can manifest in many forms, impacting one’s health, relationships, and overall well-being.

They range from substance abuse, where drugs or alcohol are used excessively, to eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia, which can lead to severe health problems.

Other behaviors include self-harm, risky sexual activities, gambling addiction, workaholism, perfectionism, self-isolation, and engaging in dangerous activities without considering safety.

These behaviors often serve as coping mechanisms for underlying issues, yet they have detrimental effects on an individual’s life.

Recognizing and addressing these behaviors is crucial as they might indicate deeper mental health concerns that require professional intervention.

For anyone interested in mental health, it’s vital to stay informed about the potential treatments and interventions available.

Research continues to explore how diet, lifestyle changes, and even specific nutrients like Vitamin D could play roles in managing mental health issues effectively.

This study, conducted by Philip Jean-Richard-dit-Bressel and his team, was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

It opens up new avenues for understanding why some individuals struggle with harmful habits and highlights the importance of cognitive awareness in overcoming these behaviors.

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