Charles Duhigg started his talk at South by Southwest Interactive with a short neurology lesson. He described what scientists have learned about habits by studying rats crawling through mazes, which naturally made me think about reporters sitting in their cubicles.
The first time a rat enters a simple, T-shaped maze, Duhigg explained, it proceeds slowly, scratching and sniffing its way along the wall until it eventually finds the chocolate reward. As it repeats the maze, it gets faster and faster.
What’s interesting, explained Duhigg, is that the first time the rat goes through the maze, its brain activity remains high the whole time. Once the navigation becomes routine, its brain activity drops, except for spikes at the beginning when it starts the maze and at the end when it finds the reward.
During routine behavior, Duhigg said, “your brain actually stops working … This is a huge evolutionary advantage.” You can do the same things over and over without thinking about them so your brain can focus on more important things. Read more