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Removing Temptation Makes Goals Easier to Achieve

Update Date: Jul 24, 2013 05:33 PM EDT
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The best way to lose weight is getting someone to hide the chocolate.

When trying to break bad habits, removing temptation is far more effective than relying on willpower alone, according to a new study.

For people who want to lose weight, this means not buying junk food rather than trying to resist raiding the cookie jar.

People who are trying to spend less money might also benefit from cutting up their credit cards or putting portions of their paycheck into a savings account with penalties for early withdrawals.

Researchers at Cambridge University wanted to see how easy it is for people to give into temptation.

In the study, a group of male participants were given the choice of looking at a "mildly enjoyable" erotic picture straight away or waiting for an image that would be "extremely enjoyable".  The study was designed so that the men sometimes had to exert their willpower to wait for the second picture and other times had to make their choice at the beginning so that instant temptation was taken away from those who said they wanted to wait.

Researchers said that more men viewed the second image when instant temptation was taken away. Researchers also found that the most impulsive people benefitted most from avoiding temptation.

Scientists were also able to identify the regions of the brain that play a role in willpower and pre-commitment or restricting access to temptations. Further analysis revealed that pre-commitment specifically activates the frontopolar cortex, a region that is involved in thinking about the future. Furthermore when the frontopolar cortex is engaged during pre-commitment, it increases its communication with a region that plays an important role in willpower, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex.

Researchers said that the latest study provides insight into willpower and pre-commitment and opens new avenues for understanding failures of self-control.

"The brain data is exciting because it hints at a mechanism for how precommitment works: thinking about the future may engage frontopolar regions, which by virtue of their connections with the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex are able to guide behavior toward pre-commitment," co-author Tobias Kalenscher from University of Dusseldorf said in a news release.

The findings are published in the journal Neuron.

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