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  • Addiction, Drugs
  • Information from Lay-Language Summaries is Embargoed Until the Conclusion of the Scientific Presentation

    852—Human Cognition: Cognitive Development

    Wednesday, November 13, 2013, 1:00 pm - 5:00 pm

    852.06: Behavioral and neural substrates of self-control

    Location: Halls B-H

    1Dept. of Neurosci., Weill Cornell Med. Col., New York, NY; 2Columbia Univ., New York, NY

    Abstract Body: The ability to resist temptation for the sake of larger though delayed gains, often termed delay of gratification, is a critical component of self-control. Longitudinal studies have linked this ability early in development with social, cognitive and physical health outcomes in adolescence and adulthood. High-delayers (those children who chose to withhold an immediate reward for a larger, but delayed reward) show higher academic achievement, better ability to cope with stress, lower body mass index and less substance use than low delayers. However the core psychological constructs and neural substrates of self-regulation are not well known. The current study aimed to determine whether or not a neural signature of delay ability exists in childhood when it is possible to reliably use the delay of gratification task, and when significant changes are occurring in ventrolateral frontostriatal circuitry previously implicated in delay ability1. Fifteen children, aged 6-11 completed an ecologically valid delay of gratification task behaviorally and a go/no-go task in the scanner that included appetitive and neutral stimuli. Behaviorally, no difference was observed between high (N=11) and low (N=4) delay groups in overall false alarm rate. However, low-delayers had higher false alarm rates than their high-delaying counterparts when suppressing a response to an appetitive cue. This behavioral specificity was paralleled in the imaging results, where both groups showed equivalent recruitment of the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex when having to suppress a response, yet increased activity in the ventral striatum to appetitive cues versus neutral ones in the low-delay group. These preliminary results are consistent with a recent 40-year longitudinal follow-up study1 and suggest that self-control, as measured by the delay of gratification task, may be associated more with sensitivity to appetitive cues in the environment rather than simply due to impulsivity. Together, these studies may help inform which core components of delay of gratification could be targeted with novel interventions (e.g., top down control strategies or diminishing salience of appetitive cues) to achieve maximal change in behavior, and potentially when during childhood to target these components.
    1 Casey, B.J., Somerville, L.H., Gotlib, I.H., Ayduk, O., Franklin, N.T., Askren, M.K., Jonides, J., Berman, M.G., Wilson, N.L., Teslovich, T., Glover, G., Zayas, V., Mischel, W., Shoda, Y. (2011). Behavioral and neural correlates of delay of gratification 40 years later. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A, 108(36), 14998-5003.

    Lay Language Summary: RESISTING TEMPTATION:

    Our research suggests that how well we can resist temptation may have more to do with how tempting the choice is than our ability to stop our impulses. Children who could not resist an immediate small treat in favor of a larger treat later only differed from those children who could wait in reward brain circuitry and their sensitivity to rewarding cues, but not neutral ones.
    A landmark study in the late 1960s used marshmallows to assess the ability of preschool children to delay gratification. If they held off on the temptation to eat an available treat, they were rewarded with more treats later. Some of the children resisted, others did not. Brain imaging of adults shows that the prefrontal cortex supports decisions to delay gratification, such as choosing to wait a month to get $15 rather than getting $10 today. Yet, the prefrontal cortex is one of the last brain regions to mature, so how do preschoolers resist temptation? Is it by the same mechanisms?
    To better understand delay ability and the brain circuitry underlying self-control, we studied children between the ages of 6 and 11 years using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The children were first categorized by whether they chose a smaller immediate reward (low-delayers) or larger delayed reward (high-delayers). Then, while being scanned, the children completed an impulse control task, in which they were asked to “go” or press a button to frequently occurring neutral cues, but not to press to rare rewarding cues (“no-go”). Smiling and neutral facial expressions were used as the “go” and “no-go” cues to test the effects of rare rewarding cues on impulse control.
    While there were no differences in overall impulsivity between the high- and low-delayers, low-delayers had greater difficulty suppressing a response to the smiling faces compared to the high-delayers. In addition, although all participants showed similar recruitment of the prefrontal cortex when stopping an action, the low-delayers showed increased activity in reward regions of the brain when pressing to appetitive cues.
    Willpower, or self-control, remains a crucial, yet poorly understood, component of mental and physical health. The results of our study suggest that self-control may depend upon one’s sensitivity to temptation, and not simply their ability to withhold impulses. With a better understanding of what drives us to act impulsively in spite of potentially harmful outcomes, we can begin to help those most vulnerable to temptation.