As part of the study, researchers created a model which shows that forming good habits depends more on how often you perform an action than on how much satisfaction you get from it.
The new study was published in the Journal of Psychological Review.
The researchers developed a computer simulation, in which digital rodents were given a choice of two levers, one of which was associated with the chance of getting a reward. The lever with the reward was the ‘correct’ one, and the lever without was the ‘wrong’ one.
The chance of getting a reward was swapped between the two levers, and the simulated rodents were trained to choose the ‘correct’ one.
When the digital rodents were trained for a short time, they managed to choose the new, ‘correct’ lever when the chance of reward was swapped. However, when they were trained extensively on one lever, the digital rats stuck to the ‘wrong’ lever stubbornly, even when it no longer had the chance for reward.
The rodents preferred to stick to the repeated action that they were used to, rather than have the chance for a reward.
“Much of what we do is driven by habits, yet how habits are learned and formed is still somewhat mysterious. Our work sheds new light on this question by building a mathematical model of how simple repetition can lead to the types of habits we see in people and other creatures,” said Elliot Ludvig, lead author of the study.
According to the researchers, findings of the study suggested that habits themselves are a product of our previous actions, but in certain situations those habits can be supplanted by our desire to get the best outcome.