Research shows a strong role for the prefrontal cortex in impulse control: Adults with the most self-control use different parts of their brains
Children who easily yield to temptation often continue to do so after they grow up. That's the conclusion of a follow-up to a study begun in the late 1960s.
In the original study, children were a given a choice: have a cookie or marshmallow now, or hold off and get even more treats later. Forty years later, those who wanted instant gratification as a child continued to show less self-control as adults.
Because sweet treats rarely have as much appeal to adults as they do to children, the follow-up used a different measure of self-control: the ability to refrain from pressing a button in response to an image on a computer monitor, as part of a go/no-go test.
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The study looked at 59 of the adults from the original study. The group was a mix of those who had tested high and those who had tested low on impulsivity. They were shown two different sets of 160 faces on a computer screen.
In the first (cool) set, the images were male and female faces with neutral expressions. Participants were told to press a button when a face of one particular sex appeared, with 120 of the images designed to elicit a press (go) and 40 designed not to (no go). Since most faces led to a button press, the adults had to exercise some self-control to refrain from always pressing the button.