Your eye catches sight of a delectable munchie. And the “I want” order is immediately dispatched.
Most times, another message also surfaces……. “It’s not good for you, it will make you fat”. Hopefully this is your own voice, and not your mothers.
A battle begins between two very different characters, both of which reside in YOUR HEAD. It is a slinging match which only you can hear. But it creates an awful din……
The outcome of the “heated” debate ………. determines whether the scrumptious morsel stays where it is, or begins the long journey, towards your hips.
And the decision is not followed by silence……. The loser always has to have the last word.
And no one wants to hear…
“You’re such a BIG FAT failure”
Or be reminded about just what you’ve missed !
The BIG debate
Researchers from California Institute of Technology have found a way to eaves drop on this heated debate.
Using a magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine on volunteers battling temptation, they hoped to discover the neural processes at work, during such self-regulation.
The researchers signed up 26 HUNGRY volunteers. Participants were not allowed to eat ANYTHING, for four hours before the snooping session began.
Each morsel presented was available – at a price. Participants were on a tight budget.
The participants had to choose
- while attempting to suppress their desire to eat the food
- while attempting to increase their desire to eat the food
- while acting NORMALLY
Although the team was very prescriptive in terms of how to think, the participants could resist any which way they saw fit.
So if they wanted to imagine chocolate covered carrots or the chocolate covered in flies – it was all good.
After four seconds of torture
They had 4 seconds to make their “buying” decision.
Buying involved bidding for the food item i.e. the participant had to decide on their price.
The team eaves dropped on what happened in that four second window….
A tale of two voices
Two areas of the brain lit up like a Christmas tree during the “debate”.
The first region was the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dIPFC for short) which sits behind the temples. The second region was the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC for short), which sits in the middle of the forehead just above the eyes. The dIPFC region was in charge of the NOs and the vmPFC region was responsible for the GO FOR IT voice.
Which region was firing, when it came time to pay up, shaped the NO/GO FOR it decision. Nothing surprising here.
The revelation…………. making the shift from one to the other, took T-I-M-E.
So, when a volunteer was suppressing a craving, the vmPFC started out strong, but after a few seconds the dIPFC came to the party, it then dominated the conversation and subsequent behaviour.
It takes time not clever arguments
Now anyone who has endured the banter between the GO and NO GO voice, would think that the quality of the arguments were key, to success.
But this research suggests, it takes time for the angel neurons to sing and squash the devilish voice of temptation.
TIME…… Nothing more, nothing less.
You have to give your brain enough time to resist, to tune out the GO voice.
It feels like an eternity
So……….. you’ve just been offered a culinary delight, maybe it’s a piece of chocolate cake or ice cream covered in hot chocolate fudge sauce.
Of course you want it. Your vmPFC has triggered.
But it is wrong…………… your diPFC stirs, hold the thought, hold it.
Your brain is making the switch. vmPFC is been turned out, diPFC is now the voice in control.
Hold the thought, a tiny bit longer….
And, you say… “Thanks, but no thanks”.
It might feel like an eternity, but if you can hold the thought long enough, the angel WILL WIN. You might want to squeeze something whilst you wait.
It’s not a debate, that’s how you’re wired. Take your time !Cognitive Regulation during Decision Making Shifts Behavioral Control between Ventromedial and Dorsolateral Prefrontal Value Systems. The Journal of Neuroscience (2012) 32(39):13543-13554, Cendri A. Hutcherson, Hilke Plassmann, James J. Gross, and Antonio Rangel.
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