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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

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Study: Brain battles itself to delay gratification

You walk into a room and spy a plate of doughnuts dripping with chocolate frosting. But wait: You were saving your sweets allotment for a party later today. If it feels like one part of your brain is battling another, it probably is, according to a newly published study.

Researchers at four universities found two areas of the brain that appear to compete for control over behavior when a person attempts to balance near-term rewards with long-term goals. The research involved imaging people's brains as they made choices between small but immediate rewards or larger awards that they would receive later. The study grew out of the emerging discipline of neuroeconomics, which investigates the mental and neural processes that drive economic decision-making.

"This is part of a series of studies we've done that illustrate that we are rarely of one mind," said Jonathan Cohen, director of Princeton's Center for the Study of Brain, Mind and Behavior . "We have different neural systems that evolved to solve different types of problems, and our behavior is dictated by the competition or cooperation between them."

The study was a collaboration between Cohen and Samuel McClure, a postdoctoral researcher at Princeton; David Laibson, professor of economics at Harvard University; and George Loewenstein, professor of economics and psychology at Carnegie Mellon University. Their study appears in the Oct. 15 issue of Science.

The full story is available in a news release.

Contact: Lauren Robinson-Brown (609) 258-3601

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