August 7, 2013
Switching Between Habitual And Goal-Directed Actions — A ‘2 In 1′ System In Our Brain
"Pressing the button of the lift at your work place, or apartment building is an automatic action â a habit. You don't even really look at the different buttons; your hand is almost reaching out and pressing on its own. But what happens when you use the lift in a new place? In this case, your hand doesn't know the way, you have to locate the buttons, find the right one, and only then your hand can press a button. Here, pushing the button is a goal-directed action." It is with this example that Rui Costa, principal investigator at the Champalimaud Neuroscience Programme (CNP), explains how critical it is to be able to shift between habits and goal-direct actions, in a fast and accurate way, in everyday life.
To unravel the circuit that underlies this capacity, the capacity to "break habits", was the goal of this study, carried out by Christina Gremel and Rui Costa, at NIAAA, National Institutes of Health, USA and the Champalimaud Foundation, in Portugal, that is published today (Date) in Nature Communications.
For Costa, the results of this study suggest "something quite extraordinary â the same neural circuits function in a dynamic way, enabling the learning of automatic and goal-directed actions in parallel."
These results have important implications for understanding neuropsychiatric disorders where the balance between habits and goal-directed actions is disrupted, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder.
The neural bases of behaviour, and their connection to neuropsychiatric disorders, are at the core of ongoing work by neuroscientists and clinicians at the Champalimaud Foundation.
On the Net: