Brain Training to Quit a Bad Habit

The downfall of humanity is addiction. As a superior species blessed with awareness, humans ironically tend to ignore the obvious destructive aspects of too much indulgence in all that which gives pleasure. Be it alcohol, fizzy drinks, junk food or any other addictive substance, none of us realize the implications of these until it’s too late and irreparable damage has already been done. Then in order to let go of the habit, hours need to be spent in the office of a psychologist probing deep into personal life and childhood memories to change the way your mind thinks. Now scientists have an easier way out. A form of brain training known as cognitive bias modification has been applied in the development of an online tool that reduces unconscious preferences for a specific substance. For example in the case of someone trying to quit alcohol, the app initially checks to see if the user has a predisposition, or a bias, towards alcoholic substances as compared to non-alcoholic substances by gauging how fast they push away these substances. The faster they push away the substance the more biased they are towards it. Then users have to spend 15 minutes associating alcoholic drinks with the action of ‘pushing away’ and non-alcoholic drinks with the action of ‘pulling towards’. The app then reevaluates the user after four such sessions to see if there is a reduced predilection towards alcohol. This could be applied to other substances such as fizzy drinks, unhealthy foods etc. Results for the app tested on alcoholics showed that just after four 15 minute sessions over 4 days alcoholics had a lowered preference and a had a 13% lower relapse rate after a year as compared to other methods of intervention. Willpower alone might not be a reliable method for letting go of a bad habit, especially in the case of impulsive drinking or eating, the brain needs a little bit of training too.

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