Motivation Not Habit May Drive Addiction Behaviour

Motivation, rather than habit, drives addictive behaviour in the face of adverse consequences and constantly changing circumstances, new research from the University of Michigan and The Open University in England suggests.

Researchers investigated how male rats solved increasingly challenging puzzles to receive a cocaine reward. The idea here is different from other studies in which rats and other animals repeat the same behaviour, like pressing a lever or poking their noses through a port, to get the drugs.

Since the puzzles always changed after weeks of testing, the rats’ addiction-like behaviour never became automatic or habitual, the researchers say.

Motivation Brain Regions

Brain regions that are important for regulating habits were not involved in drug-seeking.

“Instead, other brain regions critical to motivation controlled drug-seeking in our rats,”

said Dr. Bryan Singer, the study’s lead author and former psychology researcher at the University of Michigan, now at the Open University in England.

The rats occupied chambers with puzzles, and they had to perform tasks (in specific orders) that included spinning a wheel, pressing a lever, and poking their nose into a hole. If they made mistakes in trying to solve a puzzle, the animals had to restart from the beginning.

motivation not habit

Credit: Bryan Singer

Successfully completing a puzzle allowed the rats to self-administer small doses of cocaine. Over the course of the experiment, the rats continued solving the challenging puzzles, the study shows.

“The rats’ perseverance in drug-seeking, and increased rate of responding reflect the increasing motivation to obtain the drug. And because they adjusted their behaviour, it never became habitual,”

says Terry Robinson, professor of psychology and neuroscience.

Bryan F. Singer, Monica Fadanelli, Alex B. Kawa, Terry E. Robinson
Are cocaine-seeking “habits” necessary for the development of addiction-like behavior in rats?
Journal of Neuroscience 20 November 2017, 2458-17; DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2458-17.2017

Top Image: Joseph Xuereb/Flickr