Thursday, March 18, 2010
New Science of Willpower Study: Why Habits Are Hard to Change
My latest Psychology Today column is up:
A new study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences confirms what many confused shoppers, dieters, and investors know first-hand: when a decision is difficult, we go with the status quo or choose to do nothing.
Researchers from the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at University College London created a computerized decision-making task. Participants viewed a series of visual tests that asked them to play a referee making a sports call (e.g., whether a tennis ball bounced in our out of bounds).
Before each test, participants were told that one of the responses (in or out) was the "default" for this round. They were asked to hold down a key while they watched. If they continued to hold down the key, they were choosing the default. If they lifted their finger, they were choosing the non-default. Importantly, the default response (in or out) switched randomly between rounds, so that a participant's response bias (to make a call in or out) would not be confused with their tendency to stick with the status quo.
The researchers were interested in two questions:
1) Does the difficulty of the decision influence the participants' likelihood of choosing the default?
2) Is there a neural signature for choosing the default vs. overriding the status quo?
Read the whole column on The Science of Willpower at Psychology Today.