Neuroscientist will reveal the secret to making resolutions stick

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Blame your brain if you fail at your New Year’s resolutions — it’s simply not wired to change its ways just because you tell it to.

But a UO neuroscientist says that doesn’t mean you should bag your plans to exercise more, eat better or cut back on certain substances, the three most common resolutions.

In a Dec. 13 Quack Chats pub talk, “Your Brain on Goals: What Brain Science Says About Sticking to New Year’s Resolutions,” psychology professor Elliot Berkman will explore the neuroscience of goal-setting and provide tips on how to create the best environment for success.

“What people neglect to realize is how deeply a given behavior —whether it’s being sedentary or having bad eating habits — is embedded in your lifestyle in many ways,” Berkman said.

According to his research, it’s actually easier to break a bad habit by replacing it with a new habit.

Berkman has spent the last decade studying human behavior in the Social and Affective Neuroscience  Laboratory at the UO. Housed in the psychology department, the lab is affiliated with the Center for Translational Neuroscience and the Prevention Science Institute. The research is driven by Berkman’s genuine curiosity around what it means to be human.

“It’s a fascinating thing and unique to humans that we are often aspirational, that we are unsatisfied with how we are,” Berkman said.

Berkman, who earned bachelor’s and graduate degrees in psychology from Stanford University and a doctorate from UCLA, wants to know how people can change their behaviors when they set goals. He uses the MRI scanner at the UO’s Lewis Center for Neuroimaging to look at the part of the brain that helps form habits.

“The habit formation system is one of the most powerful systems in the brain because habits, in general, are useful,” Berkman said. “Once you learn how to do something well the brain offloads that so it doesn’t take up as much attention, one of our most precious resources.”

Berkman will give advice on effective goal-setting, including how friends and partners can help or hurt a goal and what brain science says about the influence of publicly committing to a goal.

The talk on Dec. 13 begins at 6 p.m. at the Ax Billy Grill at the Downtown Athletic Club, 999 Willamette St., in Eugene. The public is invited. Admission is free and questions are encouraged. Food and drinks will be available for purchase.

More Quack Chats pub talks are being scheduled for 2018. Follow Around the O for information on upcoming talks by Warsaw Sports Marketing Center director Whitney Wagoner and biologist Diana Libuda.

By Molly Blancett, University Communications