Self-control is a key skill in human life. It enables individuals to reach their own goals and to interact with others in productive ways. Yet when we study self-control using different behavioral experiments, or measure it with psychometric questionnaires, we observe a large intra- and inter-individual variance that makes it difficult to quantify and predict an individual’s self-control. Thus, our predictive toolset needs to be improved in order to develop better and more personalized interventions that foster self-control.
Various contextual factors may make self-control harder or easier to achieve. In my previous work, I have investigated how physiological factors influence an individual’s capacity for self-regulation. One example is acute stress, which leads to changes in hormone levels (for example cortisol) and in the perception of the emotional strain an individual feels. Another example is the organism’s readiness and flexibility to adapt to challenges in the environment that we can assess using markers such as heart rate variability. In my current work, I leverage pupillometry and computational methods in order to assess individual engagement in self-regulation and predict regulatory success.
To assess the neural underpinnings of these individual differences in self-regulation, I use a combination of functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), pupillometry, non-invasive brain stimulation, behavioral measures, and physiological indices such as hormone assays and heart rate variability.
Maier, SU, & Hare, TA (2017), Higher heart rate variability is associated with vmPFC activity and increased resistance to temptation in dietary self-control challenges, The Journal of Neuroscience, 2815-16,
doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2815-16.2017 PDF
Gareth Leng, Roger A. H. Adan, Michele Belot, Jeffrey M. Brunstrom, Kees de Graaf, Suzanne L. Dickson,
Todd A. Hare, Silvia U. Maier, John Menzies, Hubert Preissl, Lucia A. Reisch, Peter J. Rogers, Paul A. M. Smeets (2016),
The determinants of food choice, Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, Dec 1:1-12;
doi: 10.1017/S002966511600286X PDF
Maier, SU, Makwana, AB, & Hare, TA (2015), Acute Stress Impairs Self-Control in Goal-Directed Choice by Altering Multiple Functional Connections within the Brain’s Decision Circuits, Neuron, 87 (3), 621-631,
doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2015.07.005 PDF VIDEO
This paper was featured as "Editor's Choice" in Science