Brain mechanisms of compulsivity – Ingo Willuhn


My research here, as a group leader at
the NIN, is about compulsive behavior … … and about how our behavior is either in
control or out of our control. The way we approach how the brain
controls behavior in general, and how … … the brain loses control, is by observing
rodents, mice and rats. Studying them in their behavior and at the same time
really looking into what happens in their brain … … on a very high time resolution, second-by-second, and then relate the brain activity with the behavior itself. Let’s say for example, the rats learn how to press a lever that is present in their environment, … … to receive a reward and what we would look at, for example, is how this behavior is … … initially quite goal-directed and very specific. And then if they do it many times, it becomes habitual, sort of it is out of their conscious control, … … this is when something happens automatically. And we want to see that switch in the brain that really flips when the behavior becomes more automatic … … and outside of conscious control, because we believe that that may have something to do … … with what we see in patients that have compulsive disorders. I think it’s important to understand these topics and ask these questions because … … well, first of all it is really a frontier in human knowledge, it is like understanding the universe. We would like to understand what our brain does because it also tells us something about … … ourselves in a way, so it has some of an
element of introspection I think. On the other hand, I think it’s really important
to understand how behavior becomes more … … automatic and compulsive, to help
patients and the clinics. So the first step would be to really understand what
that mechanism is in the brain and then, … … based on that knowledge, to come up
with ideas for treating patients better, … … for example drug addicts or OCD patients.
It’s gonna be a long term project … … but I do think we can really
design better treatments in the long term

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