Freiburg psychologists discover connection between a “calm mind” and better capacity for self-control

People who have a “calmer mind” – that is, their neuronal processes take longer on average and whirl around less than others – have greater self-control. This was the finding of Dr. Tobias Kleinert, Prof. Dr. Markus Heinrichs and Dr. Bastian Schiller from the Department of Psychology at the University of Freiburg, together with Prof. Dr. Kyle Nash and Dr. Josh Leota from the University of Alberta/Canada, and Prof. Dr. Thomas König from the University Hospital of Bern/Switzerland. Their research is being published in the journal Psychological Science. The paper has been accepted and is already available online as a preprint.

Differences in self-control owing to different organization of the brain

“Self-controlled behavior is important to achieving long-term objectives – for example when we do without high-calorie food to lose surplus pounds,” explains Schiller. Why is this easier for some people than for others? Are these individual differences based in a fundamentally different organization of the brain? To find answers to these questions, the Freiburg researchers recorded the electrical activity in the brains of over 50 relaxed yet wakeful participants in the laboratory. The scientists also recorded the participants’ capacity for self-control in other ways: self-evaluation reports, behavioral tasks and the brain activity recorded while they did these tasks. The results of the study carried out at the University of Freiburg were confirmed in a second cooperative study that took place at the University of Alberta/Canada, with more than 100 subjects.

A calmer mind in itself produces fewer distracting stimuli

“On both sides of the Atlantic we were able to prove a robust connection between non-task-dependent neuronal processing and the capacity for self-control,” explains Kleinert. Schiller emphasizes, “Our results indicate that people with greater self-control have a calmer mind, which in itself generates fewer distracting stimuli.” Heinrichs adds, “These findings are hugely significant to a better understanding of clinical disorders associated with deficient self-control processes.”

Background information:

  • Dr. Bastian Schiller is a research assistant in the research and teaching area Biological Psychology, Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy at the Department of Psychology of the University of Freiburg
  • He primarily researches on the subjects of psychological and psychobiological foundations of social interactions, effects of psychosocial stresses on social interactions, mechanisms of augmentative psychobiological therapeutic approaches as well as on the psychological and psychobiological foundations of self-control processes.
  • Original publication: Kleinert, T., Nash, K., Leota, J., Koenig, T., Heinrichs, M., Schiller, B. (in press). A self-controlled mind is reflected by stable mental processing. Psychological Science. Preprint-DOI: 10.31234/osf.io/fzg9y
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