Have you ever wanted to wake up earlier in the morning, but always snoozed the alarm went back to sleep? Or tried to eat healthier, but can’t help yourself ordering a Big Mac? If the answer is yes, then you are not alone. Congrats! You are a human being! Like a lot of other people in the world, you might lack the willpower to act.
Science has something to say to you: we have a solution. A published study in the Journal of Neuroscience details an experiment conducted on four epilepsy patients. In the study, the patients were asked to perform a series of behavioral tasks that required them to resist something (A certain psychological behavior experiment about marshmallows might come to mind).
It was discovered that the area controlling the brain-slowing activity was in each participant’s prefrontal cortex. Electrical stimulation was used by implanting electrodes directly onto each participant’s brain surface, which resulted in increased activity in the prefrontal cortex at the point when brain activity slowed down.
They increased stimulation on the prefrontal cortex by the electrodes caused an enhanced form of self-control. Each participant noted that they felt less compelled to give into “temptation.”
When the experiment was repeated, while this time, having the electrodes touching the surface of a different part of the brain, the participants mentioned that they felt no different about giving into the control stimuli. The research concluded that the effects of electrical stimulation are specific to the prefrontal cortex, and the applications of this knowledge can be vast.
Our daily life is full of occasions when one must inhibit responses. For example, one must stop speaking when it’s inappropriate to the social context and stop oneself from reaching for extra candy.
There is a circuit in the brain for inhibiting or braking responses. We believe we are the first to show that we can enhance this braking system with brain stimulation.
Nitin Tandon, Department of Neurosurgery
UTHealth Medical School
There are so many different applications possible with this newfound knowledge on increasing self-control. Many advances may be made in treating self-control disorders such as OCD, Tourette’s, and various eating and personality disorders. This study proves a rock-solid base for the research that may follow.