This article describes the theory behind how mindfulness taps into reward-based learning to help people overcome habitual behaviors
Addiction is an age-old problem with desire pitted against self-control and will-power. In modern day substances (including food) and experiences (e.g. social media, internet gaming) are being increasingly engineered to get individuals “hooked.” Current cognitive control and reason-based paradigms may be losing a battle with urges, cravings and triggers that are more ubiquitous than ever (e.g. our smartphones). Yet, these methodologies may be overlooking basic reward-based learning paradigms (operant conditioning) that not only perpetuate addictive behaviors, but may also be the key to their undoing. Understanding core brain systems, including the role of the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) in reward value comparison as part of this learning system may give fresh insight into not only the automaticity and perpetuation of addictions but also how they can be overcome (potentially without relying on cognitive control). Importantly, awareness and mindfulness in particular may be paramount to unlocking the power of reward-based learning to change addictive habit patterns.
Brewer, J. A., (2018) Current Opinions in Psychology (in press).
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