Addiction Sameness

Alcohol, Opiates, Fat and Sugar are all Addictive Substances: this blog is about that "addiction sameness".

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Smokers' Choice.

Smokers tend to resist antismoking efforts that rely on “rational” approaches such as taxes, and researchers have pointed to confounding influences, including social factors and addiction. But differences in smokers’ decision-making processes may also be at play.
A recent study from the Baylor College of Medicine found that smokers and nonsmokers react differently to news of how much they could have made in a stock-market game. The feedback was purely incidental: it offered no financial incentive to adjust one’s investment strategy, yet nonsmokers were swayed by what might have been and changed their tactics. Smokers ignored the input, even though they processed the information in the same part of the brain as their nonsmoking peers did.
The study does not address whether smokers’ behavior is a cause or an effect of their addictions but rather adds to a growing list of ways in which human beings sometimes ignore reason when it comes to decision making. In the book Predictably Irrational (HarperCollins, 2008), behavioral economist Dan Ariely of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology catalogues a bevy of errors, biases and otherwise illogical human behavior. Other behavioral economists are doing the same on the premise that these absurdities are understand­able, and they are just beginning to team up with neuroscientists to try to tease out the roots of decision-making biases in the brain.
The hope is that this knowledge will one day inform policy. To combat smoking, for example, policymakers could “use evidence of what brain areas are active during the [decision-making] process to design other strategies” more nuanced than taxation, says behavioral economist Colin Camerer of the California Institute of Technology.
The field of neuroeconomics is in its infancy, however. Neuroscientists agree with behavioral economists that in the future it will be possible to use our irrationalities to our advantage, but as for whether their work could soon steer policy, “I think it’s just too early” to make a decision, Ariely says.


How to Avoid the Temptations of Immediate Gratification (complete)

You know you want me.Image: iStock/Debbi Smirnoff

How to Avoid the Temptations of Immediate Gratification

Neuroscience hints at the power of imagining the future

By Melanie Bauer

You cannot resist the small, sweet reward of a cookie even though the larger, delayed reward of a healthier body is ultimately more desirable.
What leads some of us to give in to our immediate urges, while others are able to endure the wait for bigger and better outcomes?
Neurologists are investigating the brain to answer this question. They are interested in comparing the brain activity of individuals who act impulsively—those who choose rewards now over later—to that of patient folks.

Traditionally, the assumption of researchers in this field, and the related field of behavioral economics, has been that impulsive people choose immediate rewards simply because they dislike waiting. In these prior studies, when presented with a hypothetical choice between, say, $50 now or $100 in a year, impulsive individuals went for the $50. Additionally, they showed a greater brain response to the immediate $50 reward—in the part of the brain that represents how much you are enjoying a reward (the ventral striatum)—than did patient people.

Researchers interpreted this brain response as the impulsive individuals’ preference for immediacy. 

So while impulsive individuals would claim “carpe diem” and “strike while the iron is hot” as their life mantras, the less quoted carpent tua poma nepotes” and “good things come to those who wait” are patient individuals’ words to live by.

However, impulsivity may not simply be due to how long people are willing to wait for gratification. A recent study by a team of researchers at Washington University in St. Louis found that when people waited for a reward, patient people were seen—through the lens of a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine—imagining the future. In more patient people, the researchers observed increased activity in the region of the brain that helps you think about the future (the anterior prefrontal cortex).
The patient individuals, it seems, devoted more energy to imagining receiving their reward later.What sets this Washington University study apart from previous studies is that researchers have never before focused on the brain responses of individuals after they make a decision and are waiting for their reward. 

Instead, researchers have typically measured brain activity while people are making their choices. Prior researchers likely disregarded the waiting period because their studies used hypothetical rewards over long delays. Because people weren’t actually waiting in real time to receive a real reward, the researchers could not monitor the brain during this waiting period. 

This new study presented people with real rewards in the form of squirts of juice either immediately or at a delay of up to a minute. In fact, the researchers squirted the juice straight into the mouths of study subjects, in much the same way that animals have been rewarded in similar studies.

This future thinking, which is associated with the anterior prefrontal cortex (aPFC), has also been found in neuropsychological studies that focus on two different, but related phenomena:

1.   prospective memory—remembering to do something in the future, like fill up your gas tank on the way home from work—and 

2. episodic future thought—thinking about the future, such as imagining what you’ll cook for dinner later tonight. 

Now, one more phenomenon can be added to the list of contexts in which people imagine a future outcome and activate their a PFC:

3. imagining future rewards.

One problem with the future is its vagueness.
While you are able to imagine in your mind going to the gas station or cooking dinner in general, the exact details of these activities are not clear. You don’t know which pump you’ll use at the gas station, or precisely what time you’ll remove the pizza from the oven. In this way, the future is fuzzy. This fuzziness can make the future less appealing. 

Remember the marshmallow experiment that tested the willpower of children to resist the temptation to eat a marshmallow placed on a table in front of them, so they could receive two marshmallows after they waited? 

Research* suggests that if that one marshmallow was made more abstract—such as hiding it from view or just showing a picture of it—the reward would become less appealing and more similar in appeal to receiving two marshmallows at a future time. On the flip side, making the future less fuzzy by focusing on the details—eating double the marshmallows currently being presented—could also make the future marshmallows more attractive than the present singular marshmallow. In this way kids would have an easier time resisting the one marshmallow now in exchange for the two marshmallows in the future.

Perhaps a combination of this fuzziness research (i.e., delay of gratification research) with recent neuroeconomics research—linking impulsivity with a lack of future thinking—could be useful for clinicians who are developing treatment plans for impulsive individuals. Because the future is fuzzy and impulsive people have an especially hard time imagining it, clinical treatments could involve de-emphasizing the present, making it more abstract, and building a concrete image of the future. 

For example, while it may be quicker, easier, and cheaper to buy fast food for dinner—immediate rewards that are all very desirable—people could learn to visualize larger future rewards when deciding what to eat, such as avoiding ailments like obesity and Type-2 diabetes. 

They could also avoid driving past their favorite fast food restaurants and only stock their cupboards with nutritious foods so the most visually salient meal options are healthy ones. This could help shift the attractive light from being cast on the present desire for fast food to instead being on the future desire for a healthy body.

For impulsive individuals who repeatedly make decisions that satisfy their current desires at the expense of their future needs, the negative effects on their health can be significant.

Given the host of public health issues that involve impulsivity, research in neuroeconomics could prove important. Future research could measure the effects of an intervention on the brain. Can we get impulsive people to produce activity in their brain that shows they’re thinking about the future in a concrete way, making them look and act more patiently in the laboratory? Do these interventions lead to real-life choices to invest in the future and not give in to present impulses? Not to mention, could adapting the mindset that the future is worth waiting for help the rest of us keep some of our New Year’s resolutions?



Melanie Bauer
is a graduate student in psychology at Washington University in St. Louis studying cognitive aging. She will write her dissertation on informal science education, and has also contributed to The Open Notebook. Connect with Melanie

on Twitter 
A characteristic marker of impulsive decision making is the discounting of delayed rewards, demonstrated via choice preferences and choice-related brain activity. However, delay discounting may also arise from how subjective reward value is dynamically represented in the brain when anticipating an upcoming chosen reward. In the current study, brain activity was continuously monitored as human participants freely selected an immediate or delayed primary liquid reward and then waited for the specified delay before consuming it. The ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) exhibited a characteristic pattern of activity dynamics during the delay period, as well as modulation during choice, that is consistent with the time-discounted coding of subjective value. The ventral striatum (VS) exhibited a similar activity pattern, but preferentially in impulsive individuals. A contrasting profile of delay-related and choice activation was observed in the anterior PFC (aPFC), but selectively in patient individuals. Functional connectivity analyses indicated that both vmPFC and aPFC exerted modulatory, but opposite, influences on VS activation. These results link behavioral impulsivity and self-control to dynamically evolving neural representations of future reward value, not just during choice, but also during postchoice delay periods.
  • Received February 26, 2012.
  • Revision received November 5, 2012.
  • Accepted November 7, 2012.

More Than an Apple a Day: Preventing Our Most Common Diseases

Dr. Greger builds a strong case for switching to a plant-based diet for the health of it.  He talks about the benefits to people suffering from autoimmune diseases like m.s.

This would help the planet by reducing cattle production.

Published on Jul 15, 2013

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DESCRIPTION: Dr. Greger has scoured the world's scholarly literature on clinical nutrition and developed this brand-new live presentation on the latest in cutting-edge research on how a healthy diet can affect some of our most common medical conditions.

In my annual nutrition review last year, Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death (, I explored the role diet may play in preventing, arresting, and even reversing our top 15 killers. Actually, if you recall, the top 16. Since side effects from prescription drugs kill an estimated 100,000 Americans a year, the sixth leading cause of death may actually be doctors.
And that's just from adverse drug reactions. Add in medical mistakes (which the Institute of Medicine estimates kills at least 44,000 Americans) and that brings "health"care up to our country's third leading cause of death. Throw in hospital-acquired infections, and we're talking maybe 187,000 Americans dead every year (and millions injured) by medical care.

The best way to avoid the adverse effects of medical and surgical tests and treatments is not to avoid doctors, but to avoid getting sick in the first place. This year I thought I'd run through the top dozen reasons people visit their doctors to highlight some of the latest research in hopes of moving my colleagues and me lower down the list of common killers.

So you can more easily navigate through the menu of diseases I cover, this presentation is also available on DVD through my website ( or Amazon ( If you want to share copies with others I have a five for $40 ( special. All proceeds from the sales of all my books, DVDs, and presentations all go to charity.

Have a question for Dr. Greger about this video? Leave it in the comment section at and he'll try to answer it!