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Mental tasks need physical energy? The brain, self-control, and glucose

Friday October 2, 2020

Interesting paper: Mental Work Requires Physical Energy: Self-Control is Neither Exception nor Exceptional

The brain’s reliance on glucose as a primary fuel source is well established, but psychological models of cognitive processing that take energy supply into account remain uncommon. One exception is research on self-control depletion, where debate continues over a limited-resource model. This model argues that a transient reduction in self-control after the exertion of prior self-control is caused by the depletion of brain glucose, and that self-control processes are special, perhaps unique, in this regard. [Emphasis mine —Marc]

So, if you lost self-control lately, after you had it for a while, and then you found yourself stress-eating glucose-heavy foods…maybe this paper has some thoughts to consider.

A bit more:

Ongoing research has been focused on understanding the nature of this depletion process. Most notably, researchers have been trying to determine what the limited resource is. Some have suggested that much of the depletion process is driven by expectations – that is, people believe that self-control is bounded by a limited resource and thus act accordingly (Martijn et al., 2002; Job et al., 2010). On the other hand, other researchers have suggested a physiological basis for this resource. The most prominent of these resource models is the glucose model of self-control depletion (Gailliot and Baumeister, 2007), referred to here as ‘the glucose model.’

I would love to read more of this paper. For now I love how it lines up with a lot of my own experiences, blogged about here before. ;-)

The Moderated Dirty Cut, for example, is pretty heavy in glucose-laden foods. And the reason they’re emphasized in this diet is simple: My body seems to request those foods as a result of my normal day’s work.

(I don’t expect papers to signal miracle correlations, but I like that people are looking into it…)

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