Research highlight

Neuroscience: Playing the self control long-game

Nature Communications

January 23, 2013

Individuals who are able to exert a high level of self-control during childhood maintain this through adulthood and may be more efficient at recruiting relevant neural networks. The findings reported in Nature Communications this week provide insights into lifelong individual differences in self-control over the lifespan of an individual.

Although the ability to delay gratification as a child has been linked to many important health, social, and cognitive outcomes later in life, the neural mechanisms that underlie these associations are poorly understood. Marc Berman and colleagues use fMRI to study a group of individuals who were child participants in delayed gratification studies during the late 1960s. They find that individuals who exerted better self control as children, display neural signatures that are indicative of increased neural processing efficiency as adults. This is in comparison to individuals who displayed lower self-control ratings as a child.

The neuroimaging data allowed the authors to make accurate predictions about the levels of self-control and shows that specific features of neural signatures can be used as biological predictors of not only self-control, but perhaps other abilities that are maintained through to adulthood.

doi: 10.1038/ncomms2374

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