Stress May Lower Self-Control
Stress affects the part of our brain that influences self-control, according to a study at the University of Zurich, which may explain why our will power seems to weaken when we're anxious.
Researchers had 29 participants induce a moderate level of stress by dipping their hands in cold water for three minutes. Next, the participants were asked to choose repeatedly between two food options on a screen – an unhealthy, but tasty option and a healthy, but less tasty option.
The food options were tailored to each participant’s preference toward food--they were asked to rate foods on a scale of tastiness prior to the study. Participants with food intolerances or allergies were eliminated from the study to avoid any preferences unrelated to taste.
The participants’ decisions were then compared to those made by a group of 22 participants who did not undergo the stress-inducing part of the experiment, Lastly, the researchers conducted oices by conducting MRI scans to observe how the brains of the participants were affected.
Their findings, published in the journal Neuron, found that participants subjected to stress were more likely to choose unhealthy, tasty foods than those not under stress. The brain scans also showed that in the people under stress, there was more connectivity between brain regions involved with taste and less between those associated with self-control.