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University of Pennsylvania: Contrary to popular models, sugar is not burned by self-control tasks
Date:6/11/2010

PHILADELPHIA - Contradicting a popular model of self-control, a University of Pennsylvania psychologist says the data from a 2007 study argues against the idea that glucose is the resource used to manage self control and that humans rely on this energy source for will power.

The analysis, conducted by Robert Kurzban and published in the current issue of the journal Evolutionary Psychology, shows that evidence previously presented in favor of the claim that the brain consumes extra glucose when people exert self-control shows no such thing.

The new analysis contradicts results published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology based on "resource" models of self control, suggesting that when people exert self control -- by, for example, carefully focusing their attention -- a resource is "depleted," leaving less of it for subsequent acts of self control. This study identified glucose as this resource that gets depleted.

"For this model to be correct, it obviously must be the case that performing a self-control task reduces glucose levels relative to pre-task levels," Kurzban said. "Evidence from neurophysiology research suggests that this is unlikely, and the evidence for it is mixed at best."

By analyzing the portion of the data made available by prior researchers, Kurzban discovered that, in the studies reported, glucose levels did not decrease among subjects who had performed self-control tasks. In short, his reanalysis shows that the researchers' own data undermine the model they advance in their paper.

Kurzban's new analysis is consistent with the neuroscience literature, which strongly implies that the marginal difference in glucose consumption by the brain from five minutes of performing a "self-control" task is unlikely in the extreme to be of any significant size. Further, research on exercise shows that burning calories through physical activity, which really does consume substant
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Contact: Jordan Reese
jreese@upenn.edu
215-573-6604
University of Pennsylvania
Source:Eurekalert

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