Self-control is a key skill in human life. It enables individuals to reach goals they have set for themselves, and to interact with others in productive ways. Yet when we study self-control using different laboratory tasks, 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 tools need to be improved considerably in order to develop better and more personalized interventions that foster self-control. My goal is to better understand the building blocks of self-control and how their interactions lead to self-control successes and failures.
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 current strain an individual faces. Another example is the organism’s current readiness and flexibility to adapt to challenges in the environment that we can assess using markers such as heart rate variability.
To assess the neural underpinnings of these individual differences in self-regulation, I use a combination of functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), non-invasive brain stimulation, behavioral measures, and physiological indices such as hormone assays and heart rate variability.
Maier, SU, & Hare TA (2016), Higher heart rate variability is associated with vmPFC activity and increased resistance to temptation in dietary self-control challenges, Journal of Neuroscience, 2815-16, doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2815-16.2017
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