Breaking Habits: Lesson Plan

Duke researchers discover habits leave a lasting mark on specific circuits in the brain—one reason habits are tough to change.

UNC-TV Media

Alignment to NC Essential Standards

  • 7.L.2.3 — Explain the impact of the environment and lifestyle choices on biological inheritance (to include common genetic diseases) and survival.

Learning Outcomes

Students will describe the way in which lifestyle choices can have an impact on physical and mental health.

Essential Vocabulary

  • Genetics
  • Basil Ganglia
  • Depression
  • Addiction
  • Empathy


Students will view the PBS Learning Media video The Role of Genetics in Obesity, then answer the following discussion questions.

Discussion Questions: 

  1. What are some of the factors that contribute to the obesity problem in our society? 
  2. Discuss sensitive issues of body structure and the feelings of others in relation to the video. 
  3. What is leptin, and what role does it play in weight gain? 
  4. What role does the melanocortin 4 receptor, or MC4R, play in obesity? 
  5. If someone asks you if obesity is genetic, how would you respond?


The clarifying objective for this lesson states that “all behavior is affected by both inheritance and experience.” What are some examples of this? 

Students will choose one of the following topics to explore its causes and influences, found in the respective resources:

 1. Addiction 

 2. Empathy 

  3. Happiness 

 4. Depression 


Divide the class into groups according to the Explore topics they chose. Working together, the groups will provide answers to the following questions: 

  1. What are the biological causes or characteristics of your topic? 
  2. What are the environmental causes of your topic? 
  3. How important, in your opinion, are lifestyle choices in trying to prevent (addiction), control (depression) or encourage (happiness, empathy) the topic you have chosen?


Students will learn the way habits can be formed and broken by viewing the NC Science Now video Breaking Habits.

After students watch the video, discuss the following questions in class:

  1. What is a habit, according to the video? 
  2. How do good habits help us survive? 
  3. How would you describe the difference between the mice who kept pushing the lever and the mice who didn’t? 
  4. What is the basal ganglia, and what messages do its two pathways carry? 
  5. What do you think the world would be like if humans could break all bad habits, and keep all the good ones?


In the same groups formed earlier, students will write and present a public service announcement describing the psychological and biological causes of the topic they chose.