Self-control separates us from our ancient ancestors and the rest of the animal kingdom, thanks to our large prefrontal cortices. Rather than responding to immediate impulses, we can plan, we can evaluate alternative actions, and we can refrain from doing things we'll regret. We can also take advantage of these innately human abilities by developing wisdom and willpower. Neuroscientists often report that, although we have only one brain, we have two minds: one that works impulsively and seeks immediate gratification and another one that controls our impulses and delays gratification until we meet our future goals. When these two minds have competing goals, we face challenges related to the strength of our will. The writer and health psychologist at the University of Stanford, Kelly McGonigal, says strategies from her book entitled "The WillPower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It" and her themes include diet and weight loss, health, addictions, smoking cessation, temptations, procrastination, stress, exercise, self-remorse and shame. I will continue my essay by indicating some studies and their results. People behave differently when they've ingested calories recently as opposed to when they haven't. Less hungry organisms might be more patient, less punitive, and better able to concentrate on a task before them, for instance. This should seem intuitive to all of us who get really grouchy when we haven't eaten in a while (as in the hungry people in commercials from the clever series of Snickers ads) and makes a lot of sense from the standpoint of thinking about how to design an organism that has many possible priorities. Hungry organisms should be expected to behave differently from full ones, generally shifting their attention and energy toward getting food, to the exclusion of other priorities. A new paper by Molden et al. to appear in Psychological Science, "The Motivational versus Metabolic Effects of Carbohydrates on Self-Control," reports four experiments that put these ideas to the test. ‘In the first study, the authors wanted to address a shortcoming of prior work by using very accurate tools to measure glucose. Subjects fasted for four hours, had their blood glucose measured, performed a self-control task frequently used in this literature, and then had their blood glucose measured again. For the glucose model of self-control to be correct, the readings must be lower after the task than before. Not only did glucose not go down, but it went up (from 81.27 mg/dL to 82.39 mg/dL), though not statistically significantly. To connect this back to the key paper in this literature (cited 287 times, as of this writing), in that paper (Gailliot et al., 2007), across four studies reported (for subjects who did not fast), glucose also went up about 1 mg/dL. So that's consistent with the prior results. It contrasts, however, with the report from that same paper of a drop of 5.88 mg/dL, results from subjects who had fasted. This implies that there was indeed a problem with the measurement in that study, or there was some other problem with the data. In a second experiment, the authors drew on some studies from the exercise literature that there is in the paper in Evolutionary Psychology. In this work, it was found that merely rinsing with sugar solutions increases performance on physical activity (e.g., bicycling), suggesting that increased performance on cognitive tasks might be due to the sensation of reward when one drinks a beverage with carbohydrates in it, rather than willpower fuel.’ Molden et al used a similar procedure, having people complete a self-control task and then swish—but not swallow—solution with sugar or a non-sugar sweetener. Briefly, they found that swishing the glucose solution—but not the sweetener—yielded effects frequently seen in this literature, suggesting that that, just as in the exercise case, it's the reward, not the glucose itself, that's...
References: • Hagger, M.S., Wood, C., Stiff, C., & Chatzisarantis, N.L.D. (2010). Ego depletion and the strength model of self-control: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 136, 495–525.
• Gailliot, M.T., Baumeister, R.F., DeWall, C.N., et al (2007). Self-control relies on glucose as a limited energy source: Willpower is more than a metaphor. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92, 325–336.
• Molden, D. C., Hui, C. M., Scholer, A. A., Meier, B. P., Noreen, E. E., D 'Agostino, P. R., & Martin, V. (in press). The Motivational versus Metabolic Effects of Carbohydrates on Self-Control. Psychological Science.
• Tangney, J., Baumeister, R., & Boone, A.L. (2004). High self-control predicts good adjustment, less pathology, better grades, and interpersonal success. Journal of Personality, 72, 271-324.
• Baumeister, R., & Tierney, J. (2011) Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength. New York: Penguin Press.
• http://antikleidi.com/2011/09/28/marsmallow/ Want a cookie? Composure and self-control.
• Μαρία Μπάδα, Ψυχολόγο, Επικοινωνιολόγο, ΜΑ, Υπ. Διδάκτορα Παντείου, Η «δύναμη της θέλησης» αποτελεί απλά μια μεταφορική έννοια;
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