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Stress & Self-Control

August 6, 2015

Mental stress may reduce our ability to resist temptation.



Can stress reduce self-control? I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Stressful situations can weaken our self-control, according to a report in the journal Neuron. Lead author Silvia Maier at the University of Zurich says that health-conscious volunteers were put in a stress-inducing situation and later asked to choose between snack options.

SILVIA MAIER (University of Zurich):

So we ask people to choose between two foods, and one of them is always a tastier food but might be less healthy and the other is the opposite.


Stressed volunteers were more likely to pick unhealthy treats, and brain scans revealed impaired pathways between their frontal lobes, where self-control resides, and the brain’s reward centers. It’s as if commands saying “don’t do it!” can’t reach brain areas saying “go ahead, you know you want it.” The team’s now interested in whether exercise and positive social interactions can protect us from stress’s effects. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.