Habits come from what we do, not what we want to do
A new study takes a fresh look at the mechanics of forming habits.
- A new study suggests repetition is the key to developing a new habit.
- The study bases its conclusions on the habits of digital rodents.
- Just keep at it — go to the gym, floss — and the desired habit will eventually stick.
A paper, "Habits Without Values," recently published in Psychological Review suggests that forming habits is a matter of simply repeating the desired behavior until it sticks, no matter how little pleasure you derive from it. This conclusion comes from observing the habit-forming process of what the study refers to as "digital rodents" — computer models of mice — in a simulated environment of the authors' design.
New support for the neural pathway idea?
This finding fits in with earlier studies that determined habits form when a neural pathway activated by some action you've taken becomes reinforced through repetition. It's why we often find ourselves making the same bad choice over and over: We're not really choosing at all, but just traveling automatically down a familiar default behavioral pathway, as Gretchen Rubin explains in her book Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives.
On the other hand, another approach
Not everyone is likely to agree with the new research's conclusion. Some, including Charles Duhigg, advocate a reward system to help you stick to and learn a new habit you want to acquire.
Habit beats reward
Study co-author Elliot Ludvig of The University of Warwick's Department of Psychology tells Warwick News & Events, "Much of what we do is driven by habits, yet how habits are learned and formed is still somewhat mysterious. Our work sheds new light on this question by building a mathematical model of how simple repetition can lead to the types of habits we see in people and other creatures."
For the study, Ludvig and collaborators Amitai Shenhav and Kevin J. Miller developed a computer model in which digital rodents were presented two levers. One lever would be the "correct" one associated with a reward. The other, the "wrong" one, was associated with no reward. However, during the experiments, the "correct" lever only sometimes produced the reward; at those times it was the "wrong" one that did.
If the rodents had been trained for just a brief period, they were less habituated to the "correct" lever and they were more likely to look for a reward from the other one.
On the other hand, it they had been trained for a longer period of time with a "correct" lever that consistently produced a reward, they were less likely to revise their behavior when the roles of the levers changed — they kept thumping away on the "correct" one even though they got no reward. This told the researchers that the habit they were used to was more compelling than the desire for a reward.
Shenhav explains, "Psychologists have been trying to understand what drives our habits for over a century, and one of the recurring questions is how much habits are a product of what we want versus what we do. Our model helps to answer that by suggesting that habits themselves are a product of our previous actions, but in certain situations those habits can be supplanted by our desire to get the best outcome."
Also implied by the experiments are possible mechanisms at work behind Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Tic Disorder. Next up for the researchers is seeing if the results can be replicated with non-digital humans.
Researchers have just discovered the remains of a hybrid human.
90,000 years ago, a young girl lived in a cave in the Altai mountains in southern Siberia. Her life was short; she died in her early teens, but she stands at a unique point in human evolution. She is the first known hybrid of two different kinds of ancient humans: the Neanderthals and the Denisovans.
These thought leaders, founders, and entrepreneurs are propelling the kind of future we want to be a part of.
- The tech industry may be dominated by men in terms of numbers, but there are lots of brilliant women in leadership positions that are changing the landscape.
- The women on this list are founders of companies dedicated to teaching girls to code, innovators in the fields of AI, VR, and machine learning, leading tech writers and podcasters, and CEOs of companies like YouTube and Project Include.
- This list is by no means all-encompassing. There are many more influential women in tech that you should seek out and follow.
Most said they want to act on their desire someday. But do open relationships actually work?
- The study involved 822 Americans who were in monogamous relationships at the time.
- Participants answered questions about their personalities, sexual fantasies, and intentions to act on those fantasies.
- Research suggests practicing consent, comfort, and communication makes open relationships more likely to succeed.
Consensual non-monogamy fantasies<p>For the new study, published in <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10508-020-01788-7" target="_blank">Archives of Sexual Behavior</a>, researchers asked 822 people in monogamous relationships to:</p><ul><li>Describe their favorite sexual fantasy, defined as "mental images you have while you are awake that you find to be sexually arousing or erotic."</li><li>Select which themes apply to that fantasy, such as having sex with multiple people at the same time, experimenting with taboos, or engaging in a sexually open relationship.</li><li>Answer whether they intended to carry out these fantasies, and discuss them with their partner.</li><li>Complete assessments on relationship satisfaction, erotophilia and personality, as measured by the Big Five Personality inventory.</li></ul><p>The results showed that 32.6 percent of participants said being part of a sexually open relationship was "part of their favorite sexual fantasy of all time." More surprising is that, of that one-third, 80 percent said they want to act on this fantasy in the future.</p>
Pretzelpaws via Wikipedia Commons<p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The present research confirms the important distinction between sexual fantasy and sexual desire in that not everyone wanted to act on their favorite sexual fantasy of all time," study author Justin J. Lehmiller told <a href="https://www.psypost.org/2020/09/one-third-of-people-in-monogamous-relationships-fantasize-about-being-in-some-type-of-open-relationship-study-suggests-58102" target="_blank">PsyPost</a>. "This suggests that fantasies may serve different functions for different people."</p><p>Even though most participants said they want to act out their fantasy in the future, far fewer reported acting out sexual fantasies in the past. Other findings included:</p><ul><li>Men were more likely to fantasize about CNMRs.</li><li>So were people who scored high in <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erotophilia#:~:text=Erotophilia%20is%20a%20personality%20trait,ranging%20from%20erotophobia%20to%20erotophilia." target="_blank">erotophilia</a> and sociosexual orientation.</li><li>The psychological predictors of fantasizing about CNMRs differed from predictors about infidelity fantasies.</li></ul>
Do open relationships work?<p>A <a href="https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00224499.2019.1669133" target="_blank">2019 study</a> from psychologists at the University of Rochester suggests it <em>is </em>possible<em>, </em>but especially when both partners practice a trio of behaviors: consent, communication, and comfort — or, the Triple-C Model.<br></p>But the study also suggests not all forms of open relationships are equally viable. For example, people in one-sided CNMRs — where one partner stays monogamous, the other seeks outside sexual relationships — were nearly three times more dissatisfied in their relationships than the monogamous group <em>and </em>the consensual non-monogamous group.
The results of this study showed depressive symptoms being highest in adolescence, declining in early adulthood and then climbing back up again into one's early 30s.