PASADENA, Calif.You're trying to decide what to eat for dinner. Should it be the chicken and broccoli? The super-sized fast-food burger? Skip it entirely and just get some Rocky Road?
Making that choice, it turns out, is a complex neurological exercise. But, according to researchers from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), it's one that can be influenced by a simple shifting of attention toward the healthy side of life. And that shift may provide strategies to help us all make healthier choicesnot just in terms of the foods we eat, but in other areas, like whether or not we pick up a cigarette.
Their research is described in a paper published in the July 27 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.
When you decide what to eat, not only does your brain need to figure out how it feels about a food's taste versus its health benefits versus its size or even its packaging, but it needs to decide the importance of each of those attributes relative to the others. And it needs to do all of this more-or-less instantaneously.
Antonio Rangel, professor of economics and neuroscience at Caltech, has been studying this value-deriving and decision-making process for years now. Along with Todd Harea former postdoc at Caltech who is now an assistant professor of neuroeconomics at the University of Zurich in Switzerlandhe published a paper in Science in 2009 describing differences in the brains of people who are better at exercising self-control than others. What they found was that while everyone uses the same area of the brainthe ventral medial prefrontal cortex, or vmPFCto make value-laden decisions like what to munch on, there's a second brain areathe dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, or dlPFCthat seems to come to life when a person is using self-control during the decision-making process.
In other words, when the dlPFC is active, it allows the vmPFC to take into account health benefits as well as taste when it
|Contact: Deborah Williams-Hedges|
California Institute of Technology