Psychological scientists Rich Lopez and Todd Heatherton of Dartmouth College, authors on the study, said most people have difficulty resisting temptation at least occasionally, even if what tempts them differs.
The research findings reveal that activity in reward areas of the brain in response to pictures of appetizing food predicts whether people tend to give in to food cravings and desires in real life, whereas activity in prefrontal areas during taxing self-control tasks predicts their ability to resist tempting food.
Lopez and colleagues used functional MRI (fMRI) to explore the interplay between activity in prefrontal brain regions associated with self-control (e.g., inferior frontal gyrus) and subcortical areas involved in affect and reward (e.g., nucleus accumbens), and to see whether the interplay between these regions predicts how successful (or unsuccessful) people are in controlling their desires to eat on a daily basis.
The researchers recruited 31 female participants to take part in an initial fMRI scanning session that included two important tasks.
As expected, in the study, participants who had relatively higher activity in the nucleus accumbens in response to the food images tended to experience more intense food desires. More importantly, they were also more likely to give in to their food cravings and eat the desired food.
The study has been published in the journal Psychological Science.