Self-control: It's that sometimes elusive mental trait that allows us to pass up short-term rewards for more significant long-term gains. Psychologists have long associated models of self-control with brain mechanisms involved in impulse control and emotion regulation, but a new study has identified a surprising link between self-control and another, seemingly unrelated mental trait: empathy.
Researchers at the University of Zurich found that both self-control and the ability to understand things from another person's perspective were hampered when a particular region of the brain known as the "temporoparietal junction" was disrupted, reports MedicalXpress.
The findings demonstrate that self-control and empathy are likely related traits. Conversely, individuals who are especially egocentric are probably more likely to be impulsive and have trouble with self-control.
What's the link between the two traits? Researchers surmised that a large part of exhibiting self-control involves considering the needs of your future self. So it's as if the brain forms the concept of one's future self in a similar way to how it conceives of another person's perspective.
"From a neural perspective, the temporoparietal junction may represent the own future self like another person," explained Alexander Soutschek, one of the research team members. "This means that the same brain mechanisms may be necessary to be patient for a future gain and for being able to share with another person."
Interestingly, the temporoparietal junction, where the temporal and parietal lobes meet, has also been associated with an individual’s ability to make moral decisions.
Do you know anyone who is highly egocentric who also has trouble with self-control? (Perhaps a certain 2016 presidential candidate comes to mind.) It might be that these two traits simply go hand in hand.
The hope is that this research will open up new avenues for treating things like addiction or obesity, since those afflictions often involve self-control deficits. Maybe in the process we'll end up with a more empathetic world too.