We've all had bad days at work, or at home when stress becomes a constant state of mind. There are a (lucky) few who see a drop in appetite at the time but most people tend to indulge in something fried, delicious and comfy. To test the validity of this theory, researchers explored how people under stress respond when they're presented with unhealthy and healthy food. The study was published in the Journal Neuron and found that even moderate levels of stress can impair self-control.
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According to lead author Silvia Maier from University of Zurich, Switzerland, "Our findings provide an important step towards understanding the interactions between stress and self-control in the human brain, with the effects of stress operating through multiple neural pathways."
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Maier added, "Self-control abilities are sensitive to perturbations at several points within this network, and optimal self-control requires a precise balance of input from multiple brain regions rather than a simple on/off switch."
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29 people participated in the study and underwent a treatment known to induce moderate stress in the laboratory before they were asked to choose between two food options. All of the participants who were selected for the study were making an effort to maintain a healthy lifestyle, so the study presented them with a conflict between eating a very tasty but unhealthy item and one that is healthy but less tasty.
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Scientists found that when individuals chose between different food options after having experienced the stressful ice bath treatment, they were more likely to choose an unhealthy food. The study also showed that the pathways that influence a person's need for instant gratification was heightened following an activity that could induce moderate stress and the areas of the brain that show will power or a desire to maintain a long-term goal showed reduced activity.
"This is important because moderate stressors are more common than extreme events and will thus influence self-control choices more frequently and for a larger portion of the population," said senior author Todd Hare.
With inputs from IANS