Category: Brain

The Illusion of Willpower

WENDY WOOD, professor psychology and business, Marshall School of Business, and DAVID NEIL.

This op-ed originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times on Aug. 9

On a recent doctor’s visit, a compelling health video was looping in the reception room. It incorporated many of the accepted rules for achieving a healthy weight. The motivational video, tailored to the doctor’s clientele, illustrated simple ways to eat more fruits and vegetables and get exercise. It was striking, however, that many of the nursing staff, who must have heard this video a thousand times, didn’t seem to have taken it to heart. Nurses, as a national study revealed, are just as likely to overeat as the rest of the population.

Our Internal Food-Traffic Regulator

KATHLEEN A. PAGE, assistant professor, Keck School of Medicine of USC, and ROBERT S. SHERWIN, professor of medicine, Yale University.

This op-ed originally appeared in the New York Times on April 28.

Imagine that, instead of this article, you were staring at a plate of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. The mere sight and smell of them would likely make your mouth water. The first bite would be enough to wake up brain areas that control reward, pleasure and emotion — and perhaps trigger memories of when you tasted cookies like these as a child.

That first bite would also stimulate hormones signaling your brain that fuel was available. The brain would integrate these diverse messages with information from your surroundings and make a decision as to what to do next: keep on chewing, gobble down the cookie and grab another, or walk away.

Studying the complex brain response to such sweet temptations has offered clues as to how we