A new study published in Neuron has provided strong evidence that the orbitofrontal cortex is responsible for decision-making. A struggle between goal-based and habitual action takes place there. According to the research neurochemicals, called Endocannbinoids, prevent the goal-directed area of the brain to take the lead, and allow for habitual behaviour to take over. Endocannabinoids are produced in both human and animal bodies. The neurochemicals play a role in appetite, the sensation of pain, what our mood is, and memory functions.
Not all habits are bad. Some are even necessary. It’s a good thing, for example, that we can find our way home on “autopilot” or wash our hands without having to ponder every step. But inability to switch from acting habitually to acting in a deliberate way can underlie addiction and obsessive compulsive disorders.
Working with a mouse model, an international team of researchers demonstrates what happens in the brain for habits to control behavior.
The study is published in Neuron and was led by Christina Gremel, assistant professor of psychology at the University of California San Diego, who began the work as a postdoctoral researcher at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism of the National Institutes of Health. Senior authors on the study are Rui Costa, of the Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown in Lisbon, and David Lovinger of the NIAAA/NIH.
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