It's Not Totally Your Fault You Can Never Keep Your New Year's Resolutions

by Sean Levinson
Getty Images

You might be having trouble following your New Year's resolution because your brain doesn't want to.

According to ScienceDaily, a study conducted at Duke University revealed specifics about how bad habits become imprinted on vital neural networks, making them extremely difficult to break.

In the study, researchers introduced healthy mice to a lever that, when pressed, would feed them sugar.

Eventually, the sugar was removed, but several mice became addicted to the point where they would continue pressing the lever, despite receiving nothing in return.

Brain comparisons found the addicted mice displayed unique activity in a neural network called the basal ganglia.

The basal ganglia controls motor skills, along with compulsive behaviors.

It also features two types of pathways: one that initiates a behavior with a "go" signal and another that halts a behavior with a "stop" signal.

Both signals were more active in the addicted mice, even though the "stop" signal has long been viewed as purely preventative when it comes to behaviors.

Compared to the mice not addicted, the sugar-addicted mice also exhibited different timing in terms of when the pathways were activated.

The "go" pathway was activated first in the addicted mice while the "stop" pathway was activated first in the non-addicted group.

Nicole Calakos, one of the study's senior investigators and a Duke University associate professor of neurology and neurobiology, reportedly said,

The go pathway's head start makes sense. It could prime the animal to be more likely to engage in the behavior.

These changes in pathways were observed all throughout the basal ganglia as opposed to just in certain cells, possibly meaning one addiction could make someone more likely to develop other addictions, Huffington Post reports.

Next, the researchers tested the addicted mice to see if they could break their habits.

This time, they gave them a lever but only rewarded them if they stopped pressing it.

The mice able to break the habit had the weakest "go"-signal cells.

This led the researchers to suggest medications designed for breaking a harmful habit or addiction should target these "go" cells and make them weaker.

Calakos told Huffington Post,

You could imagine a range of possibilities for using this information to help people with bad habits, from simple behavioral strategies that correlated with reduction in activity of this brain region to medicines targeting these cells.

But until such treatment becomes available, here are some easy tips to help you stay true to your New Year's resolutions and possibly break some of those unhealthy habits.

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Citations: Why are habits so hard to break (ScienceDaily), Your Sweet Tooth Is Really Your Brain Out To Get You (Huffington Post)