Imagine if there was a switch in your brain that could shut down your ability to control impulses and self-control. A recent study published in Science Advances has found evidence of just that. Since the temporoparietal junction of our brains allows us to view things from the perspectives of others, including the perspective of ourselves down the line. This is the portion of our brain that allows us to regulate the impulse to better ourselves in the present at a cost to ourselves in the future. This function is tied to the decisions we make in the present, if we are not able to see how decisions will effect ourselves in the future it is unlikely we will make rational decisions.
The study was carried out by Alexander Soutschek and his team, in a controlled study. They attempted to interrupt the temporarparietal junction with transcranial magnetic stimulation for 40 seconds followed by a 30 minute task. The control group received the same transcranial magnetic stimulation in a different area of the brain so as not to skew the results. Participants of both the control and test group were asked to choose between the instant gratification of a monetary reward the amount of which was uncertain or the longterm benefit of receiving a larger, guaranteed reward within three to eighteen months. They were then asked to view a series of red dots from the perspective of an avatar. This series of questions tested not only the participants’ ability to make well-informed choices by taking on the perspective of others but also by taking on the perspectives of themselves down the line. The team was able to reject the null hypothesis when participants failed to use perspective to make good decisions.
I began reading the article I found it to be a really interesting discovery. However, I couldn’t figure out what good it could do for society as a whole until the conclusion. An article in Scientific American, pointed out the potential benefits of this discovery on addiction. If addicts are unable to view their lives in the future, having gotten clean, it is unlikely they will feel the compulsion to quit as they lack the motivation to do so.
If you are interested in learning more about the temporoparietal junction of the brain, as I was, check out this video, to find out how this area of the brain can effect moral decisions.