All About Self-Control

The Boston Globe has an interesting article discussing the noted ‘marshmallow experiment’ of delayed gratification and the future of research in this area.

A 4-year-old is left sitting at a table with a marshmallow or other treat on it and given a challenge: Wait to eat it until a grown-up comes back into the room, and you’ll get two. If you can’t wait that long, you’ll get just one.

Some children can wait less than a minute, others last the full 20 minutes. The longer the child can hold back, the better the outlook in later life for everything from SAT scores to social skills to academic achievement

Jonah Lehrer continues with the problem of relying on our prefrontal cortex for issues of self-control.

[…] working memory and self-control are both located in our prefrontal cortex. Having to remember [a large number of items occupies] neurons that would otherwise help us decide what to eat, which causes us to become more reliant on our impulsive emotions. While we tend to think of self-control as being an innate trait, it is actually dependent on a range of extrinsic factors, all of which affect the way our brain responds to a given situation.

Our decisions really are swayed by the computational limits of our brain.