The Loh Down On Science

Willpower

Scientists discover where willpower lives in the brain.

Willpower: It's all in your... brain? This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

To pinpoint where willpower lives in the brain, Caltech researchers sat dieters inside MRI scanners. They then showed them pictures of 50 different foods, like ice cream and cauliflower. Each food was rated on taste and healthiness.

Then each volunteer looked at each food again, and decided whether to eat it, or an "index food," given a middle rating for taste and health.

Meanwhile, the researchers watched their brain activity on the MRI scans.

When the participants considered the taste of food, a brain area called the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, or VMPFC, always became active.

But when subjects showed willpower, avoiding temptations like Snickers bars, a brain area called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, or DLPFC, kicked in

It overrode the VMPFC's sugar jones, letting the subject make a healthier choice.

And in subjects who consistently made bad choices? DLPFC was silent.

But, of course, that depends on what you call a bad choice. Snickers have peanuts, which are protein. It's essentially trail mix. Health food. That's what my brain tells me!


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