The brain's memory systems help in resisting temptations, a recent study led by researchers at the Brain and Spine Institute in Paris has found. This might explain why some people can resist the attraction of immediate pleasures and pursue long-term goals, while others easily succumb and compromise their ultimate expectations.
One factor which might explain the difference in people's ability to resist temptation might lie in the activity of a deep brain structure: the hippocampus.
For decades, economists have been interested in the conflict between smaller-sooner and larger-later rewards. Understanding how humans make inter-temporal choices, such as drinking tonight versus good health later, is crucial for designing insurance policies or anti-alcohol campaigns. This issue has recently been analyzed by brain scanners, during which volunteers were asked to make choices between monetary payoffs, for instance $10 now, versus $11 tomorrow. Using this type of paradigm, scientists found that the dorsolateral part of the prefrontal cortex, a region known to implement behavioral control, was crucial for making the choice to wait for higher but delayed payoffs.
"This is because the hippocampus is necessary for imagining future situations with a richness of details that make them attractive enough" - says Dr Pessiglione. "Indeed, this structure has long been considered as essential for storing past episodes, but scientists have recently discovered that it is also involved in simulating future situations. The consequence is that patients with hippocampus damage suffer not only from memory deficits but also from a difficulty in imagining goals that would counter the attraction of immediate rewards and motivate their actions on the long run."