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MIT researcher explains why New Year's resolutions don't always stick

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- A Massachusetts Institute of Technology neuroscientist has found evidence in the brain for why it's so hard to make and break habits.

As we head into a fresh round of New Year's resolutions, Ann Graybiel, Rosenblith Professor of Neuroscience at MIT, can offer tips on how to think about habits in the context of brain form and function. Graybiel can be reached at (617) 253-5785 or (617) 253-5780.

"We all live mostly by habit," Graybiel says. The good news is that habits and other automatic learned responses such as driving a car may free up the "thinking" parts of the brain for more creative purposes. The bad news is that new habits are hard to come by, and once in place, seemingly irreversible.

Because brains are as individualized as fingerprints, no two brains have an identical response to an identical stimulus. While it may take one person one week to develop a habit, good or bad, it may take another person more time.

Graybiel, whose research team is responsible for much of our current knowledge about neurotransmitter systems and gene expression in the basal ganglia, is tantalized by new evidence that there may be sensory tricks that break the destructive endless loops that seem to be tied to habits and, in their more severe form, addictions or psychological disorders.

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