Can Your Brain Run Out of Self Control?

Brain activity when people exert self-control. (Credit: Image courtesy of University of Iowa)Science Daily reports on a new fMRI study that shows what a brain looks like with activity indicating an in-tact capacity for self control, compared to images showing what happens when someone loses their cool. The notion that self control is a finite commodity isn't new, but this is the first study to illustrate the before-and-after of self control depletion via brain imaging. From the piece:

A study by University of Iowa neuroscientist and neuro-marketing expert William Hedgcock confirms previous studies that show self-control is a finite commodity that is depleted by use. Once the pool has dried up, we're less likely to keep our cool the next time we're faced with a situation that requires self-control.

The images show the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) -- the part of the brain that recognizes a situation in which self-control is needed and says, "Heads up, there are multiple responses to this situation and some might not be good" -- fires with equal intensity throughout the task.

However, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) -- the part of the brain that manages self-control and says, "I really want to do the dumb thing, but I should overcome that impulse and do the smart thing" -- fires with less intensity after prior exertion of self-control.

He said that loss of activity in the DLPFC might be the person's self-control draining away. The stable activity in the ACC suggests people have no problem recognizing a temptation. Although they keep fighting, they have a harder and harder time not giving in.

Read the entire piece at Science Daily

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Posted on June 7, 2012 .