Heart & Mind: February 2011
In my new book The Willpower Instinct, I describe one of my favorite studies of self-control. I call it the "torture experiment." It reveals how mindfulness can help us break free from even the most difficult habits.
Sarah Bowen, a research scientist in the Addictive Behaviors Research Center at the University of Washington, invited smokers who wanted to quit to participate in a study. Each brought an unopened pack of their favorite brand of cigarettes. When the smokers were all there, Bowen seated them around a long table. Then the torture began.Read more »
Have you ever noticed that when you’re under stress, it’s so much harder to resist temptation? Or make any kind of change in your daily routine, like starting an exercise program or kicking a late-night TV habit?
That’s because stress primes the brain to take automatic action. Any impulse will be harder to control, whether it’s craving Krispy Kremes, or procrastinating on a project.
Neuroscientists sometimes say that we have one brain, but two minds: a mind that makes conscious choices, based on self-reflection and awareness; and a mind that makes automatic responses based on instinct and habit.Read more »
In my “How to Think Like a Psychologist” course, I recently hosted Stanford neuroeconomist Brian Knutson. His research has illuminated questions like: Why does the brain love a bargain? Why do sexy photos increase risky investing?
The answer to both those questions has to with the brain’s reward system, which gets excited by both perceived value (e.g. a deeply discounted designer dress) and mating opportunities, however remote (e.g., a photo of a half-naked hottie). And when the reward system gets activated, the brain starts to selectively focus on acquiring rewards, and ignoring costs (or, in the case of investments, risks).Read more »