How the brain delays temptation for future rewards
A specific area of the brain—the hippocampus—may hold the answer to the question of why some people are better able to resist temptation than others.
In a new study, published in the journal PLOS Biology, researchers from the Brain and Spine Institute in Paris examined the relationship between the hippocampus and the ability to choose long-term satisfaction over immediate rewards.
Researchers conducted a series of experiments on volunteers using both immediate rewards and future rewards. Immediate rewards were presented as pictures, while the future rewards were presented as text, in order to make the participants have to “imagine” the future reward.
The same series of experiments were then conducted on volunteers who had damage in their hippocampus—the area of the brain involved in making memories and which is crucial to making decisions about immediately accepting and delaying rewards.
Results showed that the participants without hippocampus damage were able to resist temptation and select future rewards, and this ability was linked to the amount of activity in the hippocampus. However, participants with hippocampus damage tended to choose immediate rewards when future rewards had to be imagined.
Findings suggest that the hippocampus does not only provide clues to memory problems, but it also plays a role in people’s decisions to either make goals for long-term rewards versus immediate rewards.