Impulsiveness May Be in Your Brain
If you tend to leap before you look, or find that you own 9 different “revolutionary” non-stick frying pans purchased from late-night TV ads – you may have your brain to thank for that impulsive nature of yours.
In a study of over 1,200 healthy young adults, researchers at Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital found that those who were more inclined to act impulsively -- or to seek thrills -- had a thinner cortex. The cortex is the wrinkly outer layer of gray matter around the brain regions involved in decision making and self-control.
Neuroscientists have long debated how important brain anatomy is to the good and bad choices we make in life.
Researchers measured the size of numerous brain regions in men and women ages 18 to 35 using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The participants also completed questionnaires assessing their need for novel and intense experiences, willingness to take risks and tendency to make rapid decisions, as well as their alcohol, tobacco and caffeine usage.
Those participants who reported seeking high levels of excitement or a tendency to act on impulse had reduced cortical thickness in brain regions associated with decision making and self-control, particularly in the anterior cingulate and the middle frontal gyrus.
There may be a perfectly logical explanation for how some brains formed that way. After all, thrill seeking and impulsivity were not necessarily bad traits in the context of our ancestors securing food, land or (as most Hollywood movies tell us) mates.
Just the same, maybe the impulsive among us should hide their phones while watching late-night cable TV.