Ohio State Researchers Study Self Control

In a new study researchers observed people’s hands, in real time, struggle over the choice between a long-term goal and short-term temptation. This work represents a new way to study self-control.

In an experiment, participants viewed pictures of a healthy and an unhealthy food choice on opposite sides of the top of a computer screen and moved a cursor from the center bottom to select one of the foods.

People who moved the cursor closer to the unhealthy treat (even when they ultimately made the healthy choice) later showed less self-control than did those who made a more direct path to the healthy snack.

The results may shed light on a scholarly debate about what’s happening in the brain when humans harness willpower. But for those with higher levels of self-control, the path to the healthy food was more direct, indicating that they experienced less conflict. The findings also offer new evidence in a debate about how decision-making in self-control situations unfolds, researchers said.