Very thought-provoking article that tries to catalog recent scientific efforts to determine what areas of our brain house our self-control.
However, "pinpointing complex behaviors in the brain is not simple; we were not born with the words 'impulsivity' and 'willpower' etched into particular places on our heads."
"Scientists are still in the early stages of figuring out how billions of cells called neurons generate particular outcomes, and which circuits do what. But some clues have emerged from recent experiments."
For instance, "when people who are trying to lose weight are confronted with meal choices, it appears there are two major factors in their decision: taste and health," said Todd Hare, assistant professor of Neuroeconomics at the University of Zurich.
Hare's research shows that "dieters who successfully turn down fatty temptations such as ice cream put more emphasis on the healthiness of food and relatively less emphasis on the taste."
"It is the opposite for dieters who can not say 'no' to sweets," he said. "They say they are trying to eat healthy, but they seem unable to shift away from the more automatic, stronger representation of taste," Hare said.
By using functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, scientists can see how a "brain region called the ventral medial prefrontal cortex becomes active in valuing options in predicaments like this."
Scientists have also located a second important brain area for these kinds of decisions: "the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex."
"There is more activity in this region when participants choose options that appear better for them in the long run -- the healthy food item or the larger monetary reward that will arrive later."
In a nut shell- We humans are "bad at self control."
Thus, scientists are "looking at the brain to figure out how self control breaks down at the neurological level. Such insights could directly lead to interventions in the form of pharmaceuticals or brain stimulation."
In the meantime, what can we do to "help ourselves behave more in line with our good intentions, even in the face of temptations?"
The "basis of nonpharmaceutical solutions is the big C-word: commitment."
"To some extent, most of us are already entrenched in a system of commitments that keep us in line. It is called the workplace."
"To encourage healthy habits in an already structured workplace, companies could instead institute standing desks and hold standing or even "walking meetings," in which people move around while they discuss business instead of sit in a conference room."
"Government intervention is another way that self control could be imposed, but a controversial one. The city of New York tried to limit sugary drinks sold to 16 ounces each last year, but an appeals court ruled in July that this was 'arbitrary and capricious.'"
"But you do not necessarily need a boss or government official threatening to punish you for breaking rules you already want to follow for the sake of your health. You can set up a system in which you discipline yourself."
"Through the Internet, you can wager your own money to commit yourself to your own diet and exercise aspirations."
"A website calledStickK allows you to put your own money on the line in support of whatever goal you may have; if you do not fulfill it, you lose the money."
As Yale economist Dean Karlan, co-founder of StickK, told CNN in 2008, "It is a contract to make slothfulness more expensive."
So, could you lose weight if money were at stake?
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