Exercising self-control increases relative left frontal cortical activation

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Abstract

Self-control refers to the capacity to override or alter a predominant response tendency. The current experiment tested the hypothesis that exercising self-control temporarily increases approach motivation, as revealed by patterns of electrical activity in the prefrontal cortex. Participants completed a writing task that did vs did not require them to exercise self-control. Then they viewed pictures known to evoke positive, negative or neutral affect. We assessed electroencephalographic (EEG) activity while participants viewed the pictures, and participants reported their trait levels of behavioral inhibition system (BIS) and behavioral activation system (BAS) sensitivity at the end of the study. We found that exercising (vs not exercising) self-control increased relative left frontal cortical activity during picture viewing, particularly among individuals with relatively higher BAS than BIS, and particularly during positive picture viewing. A similar but weaker pattern emerged during negative picture viewing. The results suggest that exercising self-control temporarily increases approach motivation, which may help to explain the aftereffects of self-control (i.e. ego depletion).

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