One of the biggest questions in behavioral health is why people often have problems exerting control over their own actions. Why do people smoke when they know it causes cancer? Why can’t some people moderate their alcohol usage when the consequences of their drinking wreak havoc on their lives? And more broadly, why can’t some people stop engaging in behaviors that they wish they could stop, such as harmful habits (e.g., nail biting) or time-consuming rituals (e.g., checking the oven 10 times before leaving the house)? It is likely that all of us have asked these very questions of ourselves in frustration when we cannot kick a bad habit. Yet, despite our efforts to exert more self-control and make better health decisions, many of us will not succeed. Preventable harms caused by unhealthy behaviors are indeed on the rise, such as the explosion of e-cigarettes, the opioid epidemic, and internet addiction. The “self-help” industry is also more profitable than ever, offering dubious claims that anyone can lose weight fast, stop self-sabotaging your self-improvement, or kick an unhealthy habit in a few easy steps. If these methods actually worked, their proprietors would be out of business.
We believe that in order to combat compulsive and addictive behaviors, it is vital that scientific research discover the roots of these problems and how these root causes are expressed uniquely in different individuals. Thus, our purpose is to conduct innovative, translational research on addictive and compulsive behaviors using a range of methods. The HABITS lab employs various tools including neurocognition, quantitative sensory assessment, eye tracking, pupillometry, neuroimaging, and machine learning. We also partner with innovators from disciplines other than psychology and neuroscience, such as pharmacology and anesthesiology. This makes us well suited to generating novel answers to questions of incredible importance.