Habits and choices: How does our brain differentiate between the two?


Habitual behavior is routine and automatic, frequently initiated by a cue or change in a situation.Sometimes, habits don’t hold up, like the morning after you buy a new coffee maker with a new button, and have to think about where it is in order to press it. Starting the new coffee maker is a goal-directed action. Goal-directed actions, which are done to seek a reward, require decision making which takes time and energy.

The ability to flexibly switch between the two is an important response strategy, critical for behavior that adapts to situations.

The infralimbic prefrontal cortex (ifL-C) is the part of the brain involved in the regulation of flexible behavior. To demonstrate the role of the ifL-C in habitual and goal-directed actions, a group from the Medical University of South Carolina used adult male mice and asked them to change between the two types of behaviors while measuring their brain activity.

Related article:  Why antibiotic-resistant pathogens may get a boost from the COVID-19 pandemic

During goal-directed behavior, the ifL-C encodes information about outcome availability independent of reward consumption. Not only that, but the neural activity increases as the information about outcome becomes available. This encoding is absent or reduced during habitual behavior.

This [research] may result in new treatments for disorders where the balance between habits and goal-directed actions is disrupted, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Read full, original post: Our Brain Switches Between Habits And Choices. Here’s How

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