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Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2017 Apr 1;12(4):635-642. doi: 10.1093/scan/nsw176.

Binding oneself to the mast: stimulating frontopolar cortex enhances precommitment.

Author information

Laboratory for Social and Neural Systems Research, Department of Economics, University of Zurich, Zurich - 8006, Switzerland.
Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK.
Comparative Psychology, Institute of Experimental Psychology, Heinrich Heine University Dusseldorf, Dusseldorf, Germany.


Humans often give in to temptations that are in conflict with valuable long-term goals like health or saving for the future. Such willpower failures represent a prevalent problem in everyday life and in many psychiatric disorders. Strategies that increase resistance to temptations could therefore improve overall societal well-being. One important strategy is to voluntarily precommit, i.e. to restrict one's future action space by removing the tempting short-term option from the choice set, thereby leaving only the long-term option for implementation. The neural mechanisms necessary to implement precommitment have remained unknown. Here, we test whether anodal transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) over the frontopolar cortex (FPC) can improve precommitment. Participants performed a self-control task in which they could precommit to obtain a delayed larger reward by removing an immediately available smaller reward from the future choice options. We found that anodal stimulation over FPC selectively increased the propensity to precommit. In contrast, tDCS had no effects on non-binding decisions, impulse control or reward preference. Our data establish a causal role for the FPC in the implementation of precommitment, revealing a novel route to improving resistance against temptations.


impulse control; prefrontal cortex; self-control; tDCS; temporal discounting

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