Tag Archives: self control

Self-Control Can Drain Your Memory

The human body has a finite amount of resources, and scientists are always discovering more about how these resources are shared, depleted, and replenished. Now a new study suggests that the areas in your brain responsible for self-control and forming memories are closely linked – in other words, if you’re concentrating hard on staying disciplined, you’re probably becoming less adept at remembering what’s happening. Brain-0001.jpg

Researchers Yu-Chin Chiu and Tobias Egner from Duke University in the US asked a group of volunteers to recognise a series of faces, both with and without the inclusion of a self-control test in the middle. They found that having to exercise self-control had a negative impact on the participants’ ability to recall which pictures they’d previously seen. The same experiment was then repeated with a new set of volunteers and brain-scanning fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) equipment on hand.

The pair discovered that one area of the brain – the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex – was activated frequently during the self-control test and predicted the strength of the volunteers’ memory later on. The findings suggest that self-control and memory compete for the same resources inside the brain, and support the theory that inhibiting ourselves can also cause us to forget more easily.

“The control demands of response inhibition divert attention away from stimulus encoding, thereby weakening memory traces for inhibitory cues,” the researchers conclude in The Journal of Neurosience. “These findings shed new light on the relation between the control process of response inhibition and the cognitive domains of perception, attention, and memory.”

The self-control test used was a traditional Go/No-Go task: these tasks work by asking participants to view a series of items and push a button only when certain criteria are met – in the case of this experiment, when the face shown is male rather than female. The theory is that those who are able to hold back from a button push when necessary are those with the strongest self-control (or “response inhibition”, as neuroscientists like to call it). The participants were not told in advance that they would need to remember the faces they were shown.

“The scans revealed that responding to a cue and inhibiting a response produced overlapping activation patterns in brain regions within the right frontal and parietal lobes, a network that has previously been implicated in response inhibition,” Mo Costrandi reports for The Guardian. “Crucially, ‘no-go’ trials produced greater activation of this network than ‘Go’ trials, and activity in one specific brain region (the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex) predicted the strength of the participants’ memory, such that the greater the observed network activation, the more likely the participants were to forget that face later on.”

The researchers admit their theory is still “speculative” for now, but if further study confirms the link, they believe their discovery could be used to treat people who have problems with self-control: those suffering from ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), for example, or some form of addiction.

One scenario put forward by the pair is having to suddenly cancel a lane change on the motorway because a car is already in the spot you want to move into. If they’re right, the act of having to control and inhibit your actions would make it less likely that you would remember the details of the incident – such as the make and model of the car that was blocking your path.

The Brain and Emotional Self-Control

Different brain areas are activated when we choose to suppress an emotion, compared to when we are instructed to inhibit an emotion, according a new study from the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience and Ghent University.

In this study, published in Brain Structure and Function, the researchers scanned the brains of healthy participants and found that key brain systems were activated when choosing for oneself to suppress an emotion. They had previously linked this brain area to deciding to inhibit movement.

“This result shows that emotional self-control involves a quite different brain system from simply being told how to respond emotionally,” said lead author Dr Simone Kuhn (Ghent University).

In most previous studies, participants were instructed to feel or inhibit an emotional response. However, in everyday life we are rarely told to suppress our emotions, and usually have to decide ourselves whether to feel or control our emotions.

In this new study the researchers showed fifteen healthy women unpleasant or frightening pictures. The participants were given a choice to feel the emotion elicited by the image, or alternatively to inhibit the emotion, by distancing themselves through an act of self-control.

The researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to scan the brains of the participants. They compared this brain activity to another experiment where the participants were instructed to feel or inhibit their emotions, rather than choose for themselves.

Different parts of the brain were activated in the two situations. When participants decided for themselves to inhibit negative emotions, the scientists found activation in the dorso-medial prefrontal area of the brain. They had previously linked this brain area to deciding to inhibit movement.

In contrast, when participants were instructed by the experimenter to inhibit the emotion, a second, more lateral area was activated.

“We think controlling one’s emotions and controlling one’s behaviour involve overlapping mechanisms,” said Dr Kuhn.

“We should distinguish between voluntary and instructed control of emotions, in the same way as we can distinguish between making up our own mind about what do, versus following instructions.”

Regulating emotions is part of our daily life, and is important for our mental health. For example, many people have to conquer fear of speaking in public, while some professionals such as health-care workers and firemen have to maintain an emotional distance from unpleasant or distressing scenes that occur in their jobs.

Professor Patrick Haggard (UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience) co-author of the paper said the brain mechanism identified in this study could be a potential target for therapies.

“The ability to manage one’s own emotions is affected in many mental health conditions, so identifying this mechanism opens interesting possibilities for future research.

“Most studies of emotion processing in the brain simply assume that people passively receive emotional stimuli, and automatically feel the corresponding emotion. In contrast, the area we have identified may contribute to some individuals’ ability to rise above particular emotional situations.

“This kind of self-control mechanism may have positive aspects, for example making people less vulnerable to excessive emotion. But altered function of this brain area could also potentially lead to difficulties in responding appropriately to emotional situations.”

The Brain and Emotional Self-Control

Different brain areas are activated when we choose to suppress an emotion, compared to when we are instructed to inhibit an emotion, according a new study from the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience and Ghent University.
In this study, published in Brain Structure and Function, the researchers scanned the brains of healthy participants and found that key brain systems were activated when choosing for oneself to suppress an emotion. They had previously linked this brain area to deciding to inhibit movement.
“This result shows that emotional self-control involves a quite different brain system from simply being told how to respond emotionally,” said lead author Dr Simone Kuhn (Ghent University).
In most previous studies, participants were instructed to feel or inhibit an emotional response. However, in everyday life we are rarely told to suppress our emotions, and usually have to decide ourselves whether to feel or control our emotions.
In this new study the researchers showed fifteen healthy women unpleasant or frightening pictures. The participants were given a choice to feel the emotion elicited by the image, or alternatively to inhibit the emotion, by distancing themselves through an act of self-control.
The researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to scan the brains of the participants. They compared this brain activity to another experiment where the participants were instructed to feel or inhibit their emotions, rather than choose for themselves.
Different parts of the brain were activated in the two situations. When participants decided for themselves to inhibit negative emotions, the scientists found activation in the dorso-medial prefrontal area of the brain. They had previously linked this brain area to deciding to inhibit movement.
In contrast, when participants were instructed by the experimenter to inhibit the emotion, a second, more lateral area was activated.
“We think controlling one’s emotions and controlling one’s behaviour involve overlapping mechanisms,” said Dr Kuhn.
“We should distinguish between voluntary and instructed control of emotions, in the same way as we can distinguish between making up our own mind about what do, versus following instructions.”
Regulating emotions is part of our daily life, and is important for our mental health. For example, many people have to conquer fear of speaking in public, while some professionals such as health-care workers and firemen have to maintain an emotional distance from unpleasant or distressing scenes that occur in their jobs.
Professor Patrick Haggard (UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience) co-author of the paper said the brain mechanism identified in this study could be a potential target for therapies.
“The ability to manage one’s own emotions is affected in many mental health conditions, so identifying this mechanism opens interesting possibilities for future research.
“Most studies of emotion processing in the brain simply assume that people passively receive emotional stimuli, and automatically feel the corresponding emotion. In contrast, the area we have identified may contribute to some individuals’ ability to rise above particular emotional situations.
“This kind of self-control mechanism may have positive aspects, for example making people less vulnerable to excessive emotion. But altered function of this brain area could also potentially lead to difficulties in responding appropriately to emotional situations.”