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Are We Creatures of Habit?
What It's Like Inside a Robot's Mind
The human brains like routine: we prefer familiar things and routine tasks that we don't have to think about. If we do a certain thing often enough, it's like we're on autopilot. This is why some people can report driving home from a bar while they're completely drunk and in a black-out. A lot is going on when your brain switches to this "autopilot mode"; especially in two main brain regions: your dorsal lateral striatum is responsible for those repetitive tasks you don't need to think a lot about, like getting out of bed in the morning and getting in the shower. But when you're more present, you're using your dorsal medial striatum.
A study published in the journal Neuron show found that these two areas, the dorsal lateral striatum and the dorsal medial striatum work in tandem when you learn a new task and it becomes a habit. Researchers looked at the activity of neurons in rats learning to navigate a maze, they found that the dorsal lateral striatum neurons were particularly active at certain points in the maze. Mostly whenever an action had to be performed like stopping or turning. Which makes sense since these neurons play a part in movement. The researchers also noticed that these neurons's activity increased as the rats got better at the maze and sort of leveled out after a while. While activity in the dorsal medial striatum decreased as the rats got better: basically as the rats got better at the maze, they didn't have to think so hard about finishing it.
How Your Brain Works on Autopilot (Live Science)
"Anyone who's learned to ride a bike or touch type might have wondered how a task that is so arduous at first could be so seamlessly easy later. A new study reveals more about exactly what goes on in the brain as we form these habits."
Switching between habitual and goal-directed actions: A 'two in one' system in our brain (Science Daily)
"Pressing the button of the lift at your work place, or apartment building is an automatic action -- a habit. You don't even really look at the different buttons; your hand is almost reaching out and pressing on its own."