In a study by the University of Iowa, it was confirmed that self-control is like a finite commodity which gets used up over the course of time. This means that once people already exhausted their self-control, it’s less likely that they will be able to sustain their self-esteem the next time they’re confronted with a tough situation.
William Hedgcock, an assistant professor in the Tippie College of Business Marketing Department in the same university, was the first to show what is actually happening in the brain when a person is out of control, through the use of MRI. The images show how the cingulate cortex (ACC) and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) respond to certain stimuli. The cingulate cortex (ACC) is a part of the brain that identifies whether a situation needs self-control. This region tells you that there are multiple responses in a certain situation and that some of them may not be good. The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) on the other hand, is the part of the brain that manages one’s level of self-control. Basically, it helps you choose the right thing to do.
According to Hedgcock, the loss of activity in the DLPFC could mean that a person’s self-control is depleting while the stable brain activity in the ACC suggests that a person doesn’t have problems recognising a temptation. And although they keep fighting, people with stable ACC would have harder time giving in. He then pointed out that this could explain why some people who work very hard to restrain themselves from eating lasagne end up munching on two pieces of cake.
His findings are somehow in conflict with the previous studies showing that self-control is like a muscle that when practised in a regular basis, can become stronger. In his research which is supported by MRI scanned images, it was found that like a pool, self-control gets drained, and replenished over time, but in a lower conflict environment, away from the temptations that require its use.
How were the images taken?
Hedgcock and his team of researchers recruited a number of participants and had them perform two separate self-control tasks. The first task involved ignoring words that flashed on a computer screen while the second task involved choosing preferred options. The researchers found out that the participants had a hard time with the second self-control task due to a phenomenon called regulatory depletion. The MRI scanned images show that the subjects’ DLPFCs became less active during the second task, making it hard for them to overcome their initial response.
According to Hedgcock, the study is a crucial step towards the creation of a clearer definition of self-control and may determine why people do things they know are bad for them. Furthermore, his findings could help in crafting better programs or therapies for people who are trying to break free from addiction issues by focusing on ways that encourage people from avoiding tempting situations as they arise. The study may also help people suffering from self-control issues due to birth defect or brain injury.
Source of this article:
Brain Images Show That Self Control Depletes with Use, University of Iowa