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Self-Control Isn’t Just Controlling Impulses, but Also Changing Perspective

By Unaisa Bhayat, BMedSc | Nov 15, 2016

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Self-control is the ability to choose important long-term goals, or delayed rewards, over immediate rewards; for example, deciding against eating a second slice of cake to preserve your health. It has long been thought that choosing delayed rewards is done through a mechanism that controls the impulsive processes in the brain, decreasing the strength of the immediate desire. This is called delayed discounting and is a function of the prefrontal cortex.

Soutschek et al. investigated a different mechanism of delayed discounting, specifically hypothesizing that choosing the delayed reward was not only due to impulsive control, but also because the subject was able to view the situation from the perspective of their future self. This mechanism of delayed gratification is a function of the temporoparietal junction (TPJ). This mechanism is associated with prosocial behavior, the ability to overcome one’s own perspective, termed interpersonal decision-making, which is implemented by the posterior TPJ (pTPJ). Therefore, on this basis, philosophically, the ability to overcome the perspective of the present self and take on the perspective of the future self is equivalent to taking on a stranger’s perspective. This is termed as intertemporal decision-making.

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