Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour
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Thesis defense Lieneke Janssen (Donders series 261)

8 June 2017

Promotor: prof. dr. R. Cools, copromotor: dr. E. Aarts

Breaking bad habits – A meditation on the neurocognitive mechanisms of compulsive behaviour

Like any other creatures human beings are ‘mere bundles of habits’, according to psychologist and philosopher William James (1890). Habits can come in handy, but they can also become detrimental. For example, when we always calm our nerves by eating chocolate even when we are full – or instead, by smoking, gambling, gaming, or turning to drugs of abuse. Once bad habits are acquired they are notoriously hard to break. How can our habit system come to work against us? Why does this happen only for some and not others when faced with tempting rewards? And how can we cope with our bad habits? The aim of this thesis was to address these questions by: (1) shedding light on the neural and cognitive mechanisms that underlie compulsive gambling and eating in particular, and (2) furthering our understanding of how mindfulness can help break bad eating habits.