Got sugar? Glucose affects our ability to resist temptation

Dec 03, 2007

New research from a lab at Florida State University reveals that self-control takes fuel — literally. When we exercise it, resisting temptations to misbehave, our fuel tank is depleted, making subsequent efforts at self-control more difficult.

Florida State psychologist Roy F. Baumeister and his colleagues Kathleen D. Vohs, University of Minnesota, and Dianne M. Tice, Florida State, showed this with an experiment using the Stroop task, a famous way of testing strength of self-control.

Participants in this task are shown color words that are printed in different-colored ink (like the word red printed in blue font), and are told to name the color of the ink, not the word. Baumeister found that when participants perform multiple self-control tasks like the Stroop test in a row, they do worse over time. Thus, the ability to control ourselves wanes as it is exercised.

Moreover, Baumeister and colleagues found that the fuel that powers this ability turns out to be one of the same things that fuels our muscles: sugar, in the form of glucose.

The researchers measured the blood glucose levels of participants before either engaging in another self-control task or a task that did not involve self-control. They found that the group performing the self-control task suffered depletion in glucose afterward. Furthermore, in another experiment, two groups performed the Stroop task two times each, drinking one of two sweetened beverages in between. The control group drank lemonade with Splenda, a sugar-free sweetener; the test group got lemonade sweetened with real sugar. The sugar group performed better than the Splenda group on their second Stroop test, presumably because their blood sugar had been replenished.

The results as reported in the December issue of Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, suggest the possibility of psychological interventions for helping people achieve greater self-control. For one thing, like muscles, self-control may be able to be strengthened through exercise.

Results so far are inconsistent, Baumeister says, and some regimens work better than others, but he envisions that greater understanding of the biological and psychological underpinnings of our ability to control ourselves will have important real-world application for people in the self-control business, such as coaches, therapists, teachers, and parents.

Source: Association for Psychological Science

Explore further: Depression, suicide and the workplace - Q&A

Related Stories

Italian olive tree disease stumps EU

9 hours ago

EU member states are divided on how to stop the spread of a disease affecting olive trees in Italy that could result in around a million being cut down, officials said Friday.

Festo has BionicANTs communicating by the rules for tasks

9 hours ago

Germany-based automation company Festo, focused on technologies for tasks, turns to nature for inspiration, trying to take the cues from how nature performs tasks so efficiently. "Whether it's energy efficiency, ...

Jury decides Silicon Valley firm did not discriminate

10 hours ago

A jury decided Friday that a prestigious venture capital firm did not discriminate or retaliate against a female employee in a case that shined a light on gender imbalance and working conditions for women ...

Intel in talks with Altera on tie-up

10 hours ago

US tech giant Intel is in talks with rival Altera on a tie-up to broaden the chipmaker's product line amid growth in Internet-connected devices, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday.

Recommended for you

Classroom behaviour and dyslexia research

7 hours ago

Bournemouth University lecturer Dr Julie Kirkby is investigating the significance of copying and note-taking in the classroom and how it affects the learning of Dyslexic children.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.