A recent study suggests that exercising control (by making choices) may be adaptive because it activates the brain regions associated with rewards.
"Everything we do involves making choices, even if we don't think very much about it. For example, just moving your leg to walk in one direction or another is a choice - however, you might not appreciate that you are choosing this action, unless someone were to stop you from moving that leg. We often take for granted all of the choices we make, until they are taken away," said Mauricio Delgado at Rutgers University, who co-wrote the article along with post-doctoral fellow, Lauren Leotti.
In conducting their experiment, Leotti and Delgado used a simple task in which participants were presented with different cues - the choice and no choice cues.
According to Leotti, the study demonstrated that the opportunity for a sense of control relayed by the choice cues (compared to no choice cues) recruits reward related brain circuitry.
"It makes sense that we would evolve to find choice rewarding, since the perception of control is so adaptive. If we didn't feel that we were capable of effectively acting on our environment to achieve our desired goals, there would be little incentive to face even the slightest challenge," said Leotti.
The study will be published in Psychological Science.