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During the Vietnam War, around 20% of U.S. servicemen were addicted to heroin. It was an epidemic.To figure out what was going on, the U.S. government started checking every soldier for addiction before sending them home — and those on drugs had to stay in the country until they were clean. Once they returned to the U.S., psychiatric researcher Lee Robins tracked their progress, reports Alix Spiegel at NPR.
Amazingly, only 5% relapsed on heroin use, according to Lee’s research. When addicts were treated in the U.S., 90% relapsed.
This finding supports the theory that when it comes to behavioural change, environment is a key factor.
A change in attitude is not enough. For example, when a smoker sees the outside of his office building, he’ll have a much stronger inclination to smoke than as if he were in a different environment, psychologist David Neal told NPR:
“People, when they perform a behaviour a lot — especially in the same environment, same sort of physical setting — outsource the control of the behaviour to the environment.”
Environment is especially important when it comes to changing repeated tasks or addictions. But if you’re trying to start new behaviours — like say, exercise more or increase your productivity at work— a change in attitude (more willpower) is still effective.
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