Neuroscience

Stress reduces self-control

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Science  04 Sep 2015:
Vol. 349, Issue 6252, pp. 1067-1068
DOI: 10.1126/science.349.6252.1067-c

Stress can lead people to make unhealthy food choices

PHOTO: © RUTH BLACK/THE PICTURE PANTRY/CORBIS

Everyone experiences situations in which our willpower fades, and we abandon self-control for choices that we later regret. Maier et al. assessed how stress affects self-control in young adults that have a healthy lifestyle but reported indulging in fast-food treats regularly. Compared to control participants, participants who were experimentally stressed preferred tastier foods more often in a two-choice taste test, regardless of whether their choice was less healthy and in disagreement with their self-imposed dietary restrictions. Brain imaging revealed more-active reward and taste circuits in stressed participants and less activity in regions associated with self-control. This suggests that stressed individuals prefer immediate reward over following a long-term goal.

Neuron 87, 621 (2015).

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