December 8, 2014

The benefits of reframing for delaying

Recently, I wrote about Walter Mischel's new book The Marshmallow Test. In the book Mischel describes his experiments which show that children who were more able to delay gratification in the face of temptations, on average had more successful and happier lives than children who were worse a delay gratification. Rather than necessarily exercising great willpower, these children tended to apply several mental techniques such as distracting themselves and reframing the situation. Now, there is a study demonstrating the benefits of reframing for delaying:
Behavioral and neural correlates of increased self-control in the absence of increased willpower - Magen et al. (2014)
Abstract: People often exert willpower to choose a more valuable delayed reward over a less valuable immediate reward, but using willpower is taxing and frequently fails. In this research, we demonstrate the ability to enhance self-control (i.e., forgoing smaller immediate rewards in favor of larger delayed rewards) without exerting additional willpower. Using behavioral and neuroimaging data, we show that a reframing of rewards (i) reduced the subjective value of smaller immediate rewards relative to larger delayed rewards, (ii) increased the likelihood of choosing the larger delayed rewards when choosing between two real monetary rewards, (iii) reduced the brain reward responses to immediate rewards in the dorsal and ventral striatum, and (iv) reduced brain activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (a correlate of willpower) when participants chose the same larger later rewards across the two choice frames. We conclude that reframing can promote self-control while avoiding the need for additional willpower expenditure.

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