The ability to choose a long-term benefit over instant gratification may be a difficult dilemma with which people grapple every day, but it’s also an important choice that can have significant consequences for personal satisfaction and quality of life. Everyone from children to elderly adults has displayed difficulty in making such choices, though the specific influences that may effect the tendency to sacrifice the immediate for the eventual are not thoroughly understood. Recently, a research team at Columbia University found that the choice of when to receive a reward can be traced within the brain, and have narrowed the source to the pre-frontal cortex.
The project, which was a joint production between the university’s Department of Psychology and the Center for Decision Sciences at its business school, worked with over fifty participants using a kind of non-invasive brain stimulation. The participants were divided into three distinct groups; a third were given stimulation to the left pre-frontal cortex, another third received stimulation to the right pre-frontal cortex, and the final third was given a placebo procedure with no stimulation at all. The participants were then involved in exercises that required them to choose between small immediate rewards and larger rewards given at a later date.
Researchers recorded that those participants who had been stimulated in the left pre-frontal cortex were more likely to choose immediate rewards. This area is also known to be poorly developed in children and adolescents, and may explain the greater degree of difficulty commonly experienced among children making choices relating to delayed gratification. The team noted that with further research into the pre-frontal cortex and its responsibility for handling such crucial decisions, a better quality of life and improved developmental care for many people may be in sight.
© Copyright 2010 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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