Do you have an addiction and you have tried to stop it in vain?
A psychology experiment conducted at the University of New South Wales has shown why it is hard to direct our attention from the cues that might lead to the things we would like to avoid for insurance alcohol or eating unhealthy food. The experiment was led by Dr. Poppy Watson who agreed to the fact that people find it hard to ignore cues that have huge rewards.
In case you are stressed, tired or you are straining your brainpower, it becomes harder to ignore cues that signal a reward.
However, for the first time, this psychology experiment showed that it is harder for participants to ignore these cues if they are holding other information in their memory.
The Importance of Executive Control:
While experimenting, the researchers used a set of control resources to guide and help them suppress the unwanted signals of the reward. However, when the control resources are taxed, it became evident that controlling these unwanted signals became harder.
At first, Dr. Poppy and the research team did not know if the general inability of people to ignore cues is something we cannot control or whether we use our executive control processes to work against distractions.
However, after careful analysis of the results obtained, it became clear that human beings rely on their executive control processes to work against these distractions constantly.
Executive control allows us to organize our lives, focus, pay attention and regulate our emotions. Therefore, according to Dr. Poppy, knowing that executive control can help in suppressing the attention towards unwanted signals that tend to reward us, we can try to strengthen this control to treat serious problems such as addiction in society.
The Experiment Process:
To experiment, the participants had to look at a screen that contained different shapes among them a colorful circle. The participants were told they will earn some money if they located and looked at the diamond shape. However, if the participant looked at the colored circle (the distractor) he or she was not to earn any money!
Furthermore, the participants were told that they would win a higher amount of money in the presence of a blue circle after they’ve completed the diamond task. To get accurate results, the scientists used eye-tracking to measure where the participants were looking on the screen.
Finally, for the participants to control their attention resources, Dr. Poppy told them to do the task at both high and low memory load. To differentiate the two conditions, during the high memory load version, the participants were supposed to memorize a sequence of numbers besides locating the diamond. This ensured that they had fewer attention resources to focus on the task at hand.
The results showed that participants found it difficult to stop looking at the cues that would reward them i.e. the colored circles even if they were paid to try and ignore them. Consequently, ignoring these colored circles became harder under higher memory load (when asked to memorize numbers).
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What You Need To Know To Reduce Addiction Triggers:
1- Limited Resources:
According to the results obtained from the experiment, people need full access to cognitive control processes for them to try and suppress unwanted signals that result in a reward.
This should be the case for people who are trying to improve their life by ignoring certain cues e.g. consuming less alcohol or fast foods.
Dr. Poppy explains that being under stress is similar to the high memory load version because it affects the ability to use executive control resources. Therefore, if you are under stress or you are feeling tired, you should avoid situations that might tempt you. For you to successfully ignore the cues or signals, you need to be in the right frame of mind.
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Now that researchers know that executive control can be strengthened, Dr. Poppy believes that this creates an opportunity for life coaches to help people dealing with addictions.
Numerous people all around the world are struggling with addiction problems and they have tried different methods to curb this problem in vain.
This is a great opportunity for drug rehabs to train executive control to these people. However, it is important to note that the exact mechanism of how this works is still unclear. Therefore, we need further studies to determine how we can rely on executive control to curb addictions.
Mike Bundrant is the author of Your Achilles Eel: Discover and Overcome the Hidden Cause of Negative Emotions, Bad Decisions and Self-Sabotage and co-founder at The iNLP Center which offers online certification in Neuro-Linguistic Programming and life coaching.