Creatures of Habit
Charles Duhigg is a Pulitzer Prize–winning investigative reporter for The New York Times and the author of The Power of Habit. He is a winner of the National Academies of Sciences, National Journalism, and George Polk awards. A graduate of Harvard Business School and Yale College, he lives in Brooklyn with his wife and two children.
Charles Duhigg: So I first got interested in habits about a decade ago when I was a reporter in Iraq, and I heard about this Army Major down in a city named Kufa, which is about an hour south of Baghdad. And I flew down to meet him. And he had stopped riots from happening by taking kabob sellers out of the plazas. And I thought this was totally fascinating. What would happen is, people would get hungry, the crowds would develop and there were no kabob sellers there, so they’d all go home and the riot would never happen. And I asked him, like, how he knew this because the riots had been a problem in Kufa for a year. And he said that the military is like this giant habit formation experiment. That everyone learns how to work in the military by learning how to manipulate their own habits and other people’s habits.
And that got me super interested, and so when I got back to the U.S., it, you know, I wanted to learn about habit formation and I wanted to learn how to change my habits--lke, I wanted to lose weight and I wanted to be able to exercise easier, and there were all these things in my life that . . . I felt like I was a successful person and I was powerless over changing these patterns. And so, the more I researched it, the more people told me, this is really a neurology issue.
There is a woman named Wendy Wood, who did a study when she was at Duke., and she followed around college students to try to figure out how much of their day was decision-making versus how much was habit. And what she found was that about 45 percent of all the behaviors that someone did in a day was habit.
And this gets to sort of the way that habits work, which is that there’s this thing called the “habit loop.” There’s three parts to it: there’s first a cue, which is a trigger for behavior, and then the behavior itself, which we usually refer to as a routine, or scientists refer to it as a routine, and then there’s the reward. And the reward is actually why the habit happens in the first place, it’s how your brain sort of decides, should I remember this pattern for the future or not? And the cue and the reward become neurologically intertwined until a sense of craving emerges that drives your behavior. And this actually explains so much of our lives. And not only, like, our lives, but also how companies function.
If you take this framework and sort of apply it and look at the behaviors that you do, for instance, backing your car out of a driveway or why you suddenly feel hungry when you see a donut box on the counter at work but you weren’t hungry five minutes earlier, or why companies function in certain ways, why these dysfunctions emerge within a corporation, you can find these cues and rewards that kind of explain the behaviors. So, it’s enormously important.
Directed / Produced by
Jonathan Fowler & Elizabeth Rodd
Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, describes the powerful neurological 'habit loops' that underlie much of what people, corporations, and societies do.
Northwell Health CEO Michael Dowling has an important favor to ask of the American people.
- Michael Dowling is president and CEO of Northwell Health, the largest health care system in New York state. In this PSA, speaking as someone whose company has seen more COVID-19 patients than any other in the country, Dowling implores Americans to wear masks—not only for their own health, but for the health of those around them.
- The CDC reports that there have been close to 7.9 million cases of coronavirus reported in the United States since January. Around 216,000 people have died from the virus so far with hundreds more added to the tally every day. Several labs around the world are working on solutions, but there is currently no vaccine for COVID-19.
- The most basic thing that everyone can do to help slow the spread is to practice social distancing, wash your hands, and to wear a mask. The CDC recommends that everyone ages two and up wear a mask that is two or more layers of material and that covers the nose, mouth, and chin. Gaiters and face shields have been shown to be less effective at blocking droplets. Homemade face coverings are acceptable, but wearers should make sure they are constructed out of the proper materials and that they are washed between uses. Wearing a mask is the most important thing you can do to save lives in your community.
Another amazing tardigrade survival skill is discovered.
- Apparently, some water bears can even beat extreme UV light.
- It may be an adaptation to the summer heat in India.
- Special under-skin pigments neutralize harmful rays.
Stressor testing<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDU1MzIzMS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMjc2MDc4Mn0.5R6DAfzsq29zvETCEH1sR9rprcnJv_L0KyUW2qedslE/img.jpg?width=980" id="c6b71" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="e7afe644fc94631ed9ea6837ed3920d3" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="water bear illustration" />
3D illustration of a tardigrade
Credit: Dotted Yeti/Shutterstock<p>It seems at times like scientists enjoy playing the "let's see if <em>this</em> kills them" game with tardigrades, a game that humans usually lose. After searching the campus of the Indian Institute of Science, researchers gathered some water bears and brought them back to the lab to see what they could handle.</p><p>The scientists found that after they exposed <a href="http://cshprotocols.cshlp.org/content/2018/11/pdb.emo102301.full" target="_blank"><em>Hypsibius exemplaris</em></a> tardigrades to very high doses — 1 kilojoule (kJ) per square meter — of UV light for about 15 minutes, they would in fact die over the next 24 hours. However, when they aimed the same blasts at the reddish-brown tardigrades…nothing. The humans even quadrupled the UV intensity and, nope, they tracked the water bears for 30 days, and a majority of them, 60 percent, were still fine.</p><p>As is often the case with tardigrades, the question is how?</p>
Turning deadly light blue<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDU1MzIwMy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMTM1NTE2N30.n8FiCLgp5aTqmYby2bjpeu9QJRTV7KzaB9tmTHBzWtk/img.jpg?width=980" id="5d4cc" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="7aa8735a958123bcfb269920eb4d2aed" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Tardigrade's normal appearance (left), and under inverted fluorescence (right)
Credit: Suma et al., Biology Letters (2020)<p>When the researchers examined the tardigrades under an inverted fluorescence microscope they found that when they were exposed to UV light, they became blue. The researchers' hypothesis is that these tardigrades carry fluorescent pigments beneath their skin that they deploy as necessary to transform UV light into simple benign, blue light. It may be that this ability has emerged as an evolutionary response to southern tropical India's often-extreme heat. The study says that typical summer-day UV levels in this region are about 4kJ per square meter.</p><p>Of the 40 percent of the reddish-brown tardigrades that had died before 30 days — mostly after about 20 days — the scientists concluded they had less pigment with which to neutralize UV light.</p><p>When the scientists extracted the pigment from the UV champions and coated some <em>Hypsibius exemplaris</em> tardigrades with the stuff, their resistance to UV exposure was also enhanced, boosting their survival rate to almost twice that of their uncoated brethren.</p><p>Autofluorescence has been found in other animals — parrots, scorpions, chameleons, and frogs, among others — so it's not completely unheard of. In parrots, for example, autofluorescence is hypothesized to be involved in tweaking coloration during mating rituals. Still, surprise, tardigrades seem to be putting it to unusual use by employing it for UV protection. </p>
Rare structures and artifacts of the Viking religion practiced centuries prior to Christianity's introduction have been uncovered by archaeologists in Norway, including a "god house."
- A 1,200-year-old temple to the Old Norse gods including Thor and Odin has been unearthed in Norway by a team of archaeologists.
- It was likely used for worship and sacrifices to gods during the midsummer and midwinter solstices, and other fertility festivals.
- Icelanders are officially practicing the Old Norse pagan religions again; the first temple to the Norse gods in 1000 years is currently being constructed in the City of Reykjavík.
The god house<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDU1MjM3MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1ODkzNzY0MX0.pmfs1whuVE2pdAlBLV64Zw0T2FSLPFpm63j48AlyUz4/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C0%2C0%2C0&height=700" id="531ba" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="693df469340e1552b5babcf965f8df7e" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Aerial view of the "godhouse."
Photo courtesy of the University Museum of Bergen<p>The building remains were unearthed by <a href="https://www.universitetsmuseet.no/nb/artikkel/230/enestaende-funn-av-hedensk-gudehov-fra-yngre-jernalder" target="_blank">archaeologists from the University Museum of Bergen</a> in September at the seaside village of Ose located in western Norway ahead of preparations for a new housing development project. Based on the placement of post holes and other artifacts, the team was able to determine the structure of the god house and how it was used.</p><p>The large wooden building was about 45 feet long, 26 feet wide, and 40 feet high, and is thought by archaeologists to date from the end of the eighth century. The building's layout is almost identical to late Iron Age god houses found at Uppåkra in southern Sweden and Tissø in Denmark, but this is the first temple of its kind found in Norway according to archaeologist and architect <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Soren_Diinhoff" target="_blank">Søren Diinhoff</a> who led the project.</p><p>"We have discovered the most perfectly shaped god house of all the finds so far — I know of no other Scandinavian buildings in which the house construction is as clear as it is here," <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Soren_Diinhoff" target="_blank">Diinhoff</a> told <a href="https://www.syfy.com/syfywire/1200-year-old-viking-temple-found-in-norway" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Syfy Wire</a>'s Elizabeth Rayne. "I think our building is central to document and verify this very special architecture."</p><p>Diinhoff told Live Science that god houses at Ose followed the architectural blueprint of Christian basilicas that travelers would have come across in southern regions. Because of this, Old Norse religious temples of this time are characterized by a high tower looming above a pitched roof, similar to early Christian churches. At the site were also a number of cooking pits for preparing religious feats, and a collection of bones — the remains of animal sacrifices.</p><p>Their excavations also revealed traces of early agricultural settlements dating to between 2,000 and 2,500 years ago, including the remains of two <a href="https://www.livescience.com/oldest-viking-settlement-discovered.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">longhouses</a> — large wooden halls typically covered with turf and thatch and used as communal habitations. According to Diinhoff, they would have each been the center of a small farm for a family and their animals. </p>
Old Norse religion<p>Later in the sixth century is when the Norse began to construct large "god houses." These were complex outdoor worship sites dedicated to deities of the Norse pantheon including the fertility god Freyer, the war god Odin, and the storm god Thor. This suggests the worship was more than a small cult or folk practice. Rather, it likely had something to do with elite classes wanting to put on an ideological spectacle. As high-status families began to take control of the earlier religious cults, Norse religious worship became more organized.</p><p>The temple at Ose was likely used for celebrations and sacrifices to gods during the midsummer and midwinter solstices (the shortest and longest days of the year), which would have been highly revered cosmological events for agrarian societies like the Old Norse. Several years ago, a "phallus" stone was found nearby the excavation site. According to Diinhoff, it was likely a part of Old Norse fertility rituals. </p><p>Festivals in which meat, drinks, and treasures were offered to wooden figurines representing the gods would have also taken place. While the gods consumed the spiritual essence of the food and drink, practitioners were able to enjoy the material of the feast. </p><p> "You would have a good mood, a lot of eating and a lot of drinking," Diinhoff said to Live Science. "I think they would have had a good time."</p>
A return to pagan practices in Norway?<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2fc0c3e3cc8af1ce80c73d8eac464841"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/OYAWNj76axM?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Unfortunately, the party was brought to an end during the 11th century. It was then that Norway's rulers imposed Christianity onto the population. As a result, pagan religious structures were torn down and burned, and Norse gods were demonized. There's currently no evidence suggesting that Ose's god house was part of the iconoclastic purge, but Diinhoff and his team would like to find out in further work.</p><p>Recently, <a href="https://bigthink.com/ideafeed/iceland-to-officially-worship-norse-gods-again" target="_self">the Norse pagan religions have made a comeback</a>. For example, an Icelandic neopagan faith group called the <a href="https://asatru.is/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ásatrú Association of Iceland</a>, is currently one of the country's fastest growing religions. Over the last decade, it's almost quadrupled its membership going from a (granted, low) base of 1,275 people in 2009 to 4,473 in 2018. The association is constructing the first temple to the Norse gods in 1000 years in the City of Reykjavík. The project began in 2017 and after running into a funding roadblock, it's expected to be completed later this year. </p>
New cancer-scanning technology reveals a previously unknown detail of human anatomy.
- Scientists using new scanning technology and hunting for prostate tumors get a surprise.
- Behind the nasopharynx is a set of salivary glands that no one knew about.
- Finding the glands may allow for more complication-free radiation therapies.
PSMA PET/CT technology<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="676e611b970c9b516cace0870447b325"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/RHAyoQF09X4?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>PSMA PET/CT is a new combination of <a href="https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/pet-scan/about/pac-20385078" target="_blank">PET scans</a> and <a href="https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/ct-scan/about/pac-20393675" target="_blank">CT scans</a> that is believed to offer a more reliable means of locating prostate cancer metastasis. A <a href="https://www.cancer.gov/news-events/cancer-currents-blog/2020/prostate-cancer-psma-pet-ct-metastasis" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">study</a> published last spring suggests it may be the most accurate way to diagnose prostate cancer metastasis than any method previously available.</p><p>Prior to PSMA PET/CT, the primary way to look for metastatic prostate cancer was to image the body using x-ray-based CT scans and to perform bone scans, since bone is where prostate cancer often spreads. CT scans, however, often miss small tumors, and bone scans can generate false positives as a result of other damage or abnormalities that have nothing to do with prostate cancer.</p><p>PSMA PET/CT scans track the travels of an intravenously administered radioactive glucose tracer throughout the body. For hunting down prostate cancer, this tracer contains a molecule that binds to the <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1472940/" target="_blank">PSMA</a> protein that's present in large amounts in prostate tumors. The molecule is linked to a radioisotope, <a href="https://netrf.org/2018/11/13/gallium-68-scan-for-neuroendocrine-tumors/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">gallium-68</a> (Ga-68).</p><p>In last spring's research, PSAM PET/CT was shown to be 27 percent more accurate than previous methods at finding metastases (92 percent accuracy as opposed to 65 percent). In addition, it was found to be much less likely to produce false positives, and it was particularly good at detecting tumors far removed from the prostate.</p>
A good kind of avoidance behavior<p>"Radiation therapy can damage the salivary glands," says Vogel, "which may lead to complications. Patients may have trouble eating, swallowing, or speaking, which can be a real burden."</p><p>The researchers looked back through the cases of 723 patients who had undergone radiation treatment, interested in seeing if inadvertent radiation of the tubarial glands was associated with the complications experienced by the patients. It turned out that this <em>was</em> the case: In cases where more radiation had been delivered to this area, patients did indeed report more in the way of complications of the type one would expect when salivary glands are radiated.</p><p>Now that we know the tubarial salivary glands exist, therapists can stay out of their way. Vogel says, "For most patients, it should technically be possible to avoid delivering radiation to this newly discovered location of the salivary gland system in the same way we try to spare known glands."</p><p>He's hopeful that that things may be about to get at least a bit better for cancer patients: "Our next step is to find out how we can best spare these new glands and in which patients. If we can do this, patients may experience less side effects which will benefit their overall quality of life after treatment."</p>
Instead of looking forward, we should be consulting the past.
When will the pandemic end? All these months in, with over 37 million COVID-19 cases and more than 1 million deaths globally, you may be wondering, with increasing exasperation, how long this will continue.