The question that has been in my mind thinking about this next post and question for discussion is: when does repetition turn from reassurance to warning sign? Are they simply two different patterns or is there a connection between comfort and destruction? In considering these things, I came across a very interesting article on the World of Psychology blog, by Ray Lumpp. In his article, Habit Formation and the Rat Race, Lumpp discusses a study at MIT finding habit formation takes place in the prefrontal cortex of the brain rather than in the subconscious:
Until now, psychologists and behavioral therapists believed that habits were hidden in the illusive “subconscious.”
But the MIT study shows that the brain is not just aware of habits: it controls them completely, moment by moment. And no matter how long the habits have existed, we can now shut them off, as by the flip of a switch.
The researchers formed habits through repetition and aural cues in mice running through a simple maze over the course of a few weeks. Once they had shown that the habit was fully ingrained, the researchers broke it by interfering with a part of the prefrontal cortex known as the infralimbic (IL) cortex. Using optogenetics, a technique that allows researchers to inhibit specific cells with light, the researchers blocked IL cortex activity for several seconds as the rats approached the point in the maze where they had to decide which way to turn.
We all have habits, mostly routines that help us get through our day and let us focus on important things that need our attention. These habits help us relax or just give us a bit of comfort in the ‘known quantity’. But when do these habits turn into warning signs?