Skip to content
  • Can you learn self-control?

    The New York Times - 10/15/2014

    The key, all of these writers say, is to counter something that is emotionally “hot” — desire, temptation, emotion — with something “cool” — the brain’s executive function. Forcing yourself to remember the negative effects of smoking rather than savoring the experience in the present requires the rational part of our minds (the prefrontal cortex) to override our physical desires (our limbic system).

    David DeSteno, a professor of psychology at Northeastern University, however, sees it differently. He argues in a detailed, fascinating piece in Pacific Standard that learning to deal with impulses isn’t so much about building up self-control as it is training yourself to appeal to certain emotions — that is, not countering “hot” with “cool” so much as tapping into the correct “hot” response. Mr. DeSteno argues that emotions that have a moral valence and prize a greater social good — responses like gratitude, compassion, pride — can also help us control our behavior in favor of a delayed payoff. These qualities have been selected for historically because they are more likely to benefit a larger social structure.

  • Cookies on Northeastern sites

    This website uses cookies and similar technologies to understand your use of our website and give you a better experience. By continuing to use the site or closing this banner without changing your cookie settings, you agree to our use of cookies and other technologies. To find out more about our use of cookies and how to change your settings, please go to our Privacy Statement.