Imagine a seesaw in your brain. On one side is your desire system, the network of brain areas related to seeking pleasure and reward. On the other side is your self-control system, the network of brain areas that throw up red flags before you engage in risky behavior. The tough questions facing scientific explorers of behavior are what makes the seesaw too heavy on either side, and why is it so difficult to achieve balance?
A new study from University of Texas-Austin, Yale and UCLA researchers suggests that for many of us, the issue is not that we’re too heavy on desire, but rather that we’re too light on self-control.
“These patterns are reliable enough that not only can we predict what will happen in an additional test on the same person, but on people we haven’t seen before,” said Russ Poldrack, director of UT Austin’s Imaging Research Center and professor of psychology and neuroscience.
The especially intriguing part of this study is that the researchers were able to “train” the software to identify specific brain regions associated with risk-taking. The results fell within what’s commonly known as the “executive control” regions of the brain that encompass things like mental focus, working memory and attention. The patterns identified by the software suggest a decrease in intensity across the executive control regions when someone opts for risk, or is simply thinking about doing something risky.
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