Washington, Nov 1: The brain can shut our old habits when required, says a new study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
A small region of the brain's prefrontal cortex, where most thought and planning occurs, is responsible for control of which habits are switched on at a given time, the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reported.
“We've always thought—and I still do—that the value of a habit is you don't have to think about it. It frees up your brain to do other things,” said Ann Graybiel, professor member of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT.
“However, it doesn't free up all of it. There's some piece of your cortex that's still devoted to that control,” said Graybiel.
The new study offers hope for those trying to kick bad habits, added Graybiel, senior study author.
It shows that though habits may be deeply ingrained, the brain's planning centres can shut them off, according to an MIT statement.
It also raises the possibility of intervening in that brain region to treat people who suffer from disorders involving overly habitual behaviour, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Kyle Smith, McGovern Institute research scientist, led the study with MIT graduates Arti Virkud and Karl Deisseroth, professor of psychiatry and behavioural sciences at Stanford University.