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Willpower and the Brain February 12, 2010

Posted by Colleen in Behavior, Biology, Evolution, Neuroscience.

It feels like we’re rapidly passing through February, which means March, as well as my spring break Marine Biology trip to Pensacola is quickly approaching. I’m hoping that the weather will be warm because I’d really like to spend some time relaxing on the beach. Naturally, that means breaking out the swimsuits and trying to watch what I eat to be in top shape. Many of my friends are in the same situation and are on diets in order to lose that pesky 5 pounds. We all seem to struggle with making good choices though (why, oh why, can’t I say no to chocolate?). It all leaves me wondering where my willpower went.

The science of will power

The other day while doing some other homework, I came across a radio story on NPR called “Willpower and the ‘Slacker’ Brain”. I had learned in psychology that the brain can memorize about 7 numbers at a time, which is why we’re generally pretty good at remembering people’s phone numbers (most of the time). In this particular study, they had people memorize numbers; some had to memorize a small series of numbers, like two, and others had to memorize a larger series of  numbers, like 7. They were then sent to another room to recite their numbers, but along the way were interrupted and offered a snack: either chocolate  cake or fruit salad. Most people who memorized a large number would take the cake and those with a small number would take the fruit. Apparently, the more you have on your mind, the more likely you are to choose something that you want emotionally rather than what makes logical sense. (Listen to the story to hear the whole study.)

So maybe that’s why I don’t always make the best food choices… I’ve got too much on my mind to think logically.


1. Dr. O - February 12, 2010

LOVED this segment! Also see this recent segment on decision making: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=122854276

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