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Psychol Sci. 2013 Nov 1;24(11):2262-71. doi: 10.1177/0956797613492985. Epub 2013 Sep 11.

Self-regulatory depletion enhances neural responses to rewards and impairs top-down control.

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  • 1Dartmouth College.


To be successful at self-regulation, individuals must be able to resist impulses and desires. The strength model of self-regulation suggests that when self-regulatory capacity is depleted, self-control deficits result from a failure to engage top-down control mechanisms. Using functional neuroimaging, we examined changes in brain activity in response to viewing desirable foods among 31 chronic dieters, half of whom completed a task known to result in self-regulatory depletion. Compared with nondepleted dieters, depleted dieters exhibited greater food-cue-related activity in the orbitofrontal cortex, a brain area associated with coding the reward value and liking aspects of desirable foods; they also showed decreased functional connectivity between this area and the inferior frontal gyrus, a region commonly implicated in self-control. These findings suggest that self-regulatory depletion provokes self-control failure by reducing connectivity between brain regions that are involved in cognitive control and those that represent rewards, thereby decreasing the capacity to resist temptations.


depletion; fMRI; food; orbitofrontal cortex; reward; self-control; self-regulation

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