Why do we repeat choices that we know are bad for us? Decision making is characterized by the parallel engagement of two distinct systems, goal-directed and habitual, thought to arise from two computational learning mechanisms, model-based and model-free. The habitual system is a candidate source of pathological fixedness. Using a decision task that measures the contribution to learning of either mechanism, we show a bias towards model-free (habit) acquisition in disorders involving both natural (binge eating) and artificial (methamphetamine) rewards, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. This favoring of model-free learning may underlie the repetitive behaviors that ultimately dominate in these disorders. Further, we show that the habit formation bias is associated with lower gray matter volumes in caudate and medial orbitofrontal cortex. Our findings suggest that the dysfunction in a common neurocomputational mechanism may underlie diverse disorders involving compulsion.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Molecular Biology
- Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
- Psychiatry and Mental health