To achieve a goal in life or to live in a society, humans have to exercise will power, to avoid negative thoughts and temptations that can drag them to a wrong direction. Will power is one of the human strength, which like a muscle can be exercised, but genes can also influence it.
Professor of psychology, Roy Baumeister, at Florida State University, over the year has conducted many researches on the human capacity for self-control. The findings from several such researches suggest that for humans to fair in different aspects of life, intelligence and self-control, play the most significant part. Though making improvement in intelligence level is difficult, there is potential to improve individual’s self control, says Dr Baumeister.
Will Power as an Energy
It is said that the front portion of the human brain known as the prefrontal cortex regulates willpower. This is also the last part to evolve. Dr Baumeister explains willpower as an energy used for self- regulation. In other words, it is the self-control that is required to resist temptations, control certain behavior, regulate response and will to perform better. This self-control requires energy to resist such impulses or response.
Disadvantages of Will Power
People with poor willpower have many disadvantages in life. Such individuals have been seen to have issues with emotional control, anxiety, anger and other such things. For example, our physicians have informed us that to lead a healthy life people should eat healthy food, quit smoking and exercise, but still people at large are not following the instruction, simply because all these require a strong will power.
An Experiment: Self-Control per day
To determine how much self-control people exercise in a day, Dr Baumeister and his team conducted a study. The participants were handed a beeper to carry, while they performed their daily chores. The beeper would go off in between and the participant would have to report about their desiring at that moment.
The findings showed that participants were having certain desire almost eight hours a day. The desire could be small like to have a cup of coffee or beer or intense like to fall in love. But whether small or great, individuals have some kind of desire about half of the time we are awake in a day and individuals exercise willpower to resist about 40 percent of these desires. Thus, every human being has to spend a lot of energy just to control his or her desires.
Glucose Fuels the Will Power
Dr Baumeister in his research also tested the hypothesis that self-control is a finite energy and when people indulge in a task that require self regulation, they deplete their energy for another task. He says that as the day passes, individuals become more susceptible to lose their self control. The individuals would not know that this is because their energy is being depleted and it is crucial to understand when you are most susceptible.
A better example to get an insight of the situation is when an individual is dieting, it requires willpower, but as energy gets depleted, continuing dieting gets difficult. This is because glucose is the fuel for our willpower. It is like a vicious circle, to ignore the temptation to eat, willpower is required, and to sustain willpower the body craves for food.
Another research was conducted by Dr Denson and his team, which also showed that willpower is a finite energy in the field of aggression and anger. It showed that when the level of willpower gets depleted, individuals tend to get more aggressive. But if we make such people to exercise self control or offer such individual a glucose drink, such aggressive individual slowly calms down. But anger and aggression have a genetic component as well and is not totally depend on willpower.
Low monoamine oxidase A leads to Poor Self-control
Monoamine oxidase A is an enzyme encoded by the MAOA gene in humans (popularly known as the warrior gene), has the connection to aggressive behavior. Individuals who have a low version of this gene are more vulnerable to become aggressive and violent. Dr Denson’s team in their lab studied males with low and high functioning allele of the warrior gene. They provoked these males to check the level of their aggression. They discovered that men with low version of the gene were inept in functioning in the amygdala region of the brain and so are responsible for emotional arousal. Another region known as the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, is responsible for activating the prefrontal cortex and controlling emotions in a conscious manner.
The study indicates those individuals with lower functioning gene show poor self-control and their brain need to work more to achieve the level of self-control shown by individuals with the higher functioning gene.
Dr Denson says that there are implications about how individuals can be helped to regulate their aggression. And one day we may identify such individuals with low functioning of warrior gene and accordingly measure can be taken.
Dr Baumieter suggest that level of self control can be improved for most of us. He believes that willpower is like a muscle, which requires exercise for its well being. In their study, they found that individuals who underwent willpower exercise in their lab for a few weeks, showed improvement for which they were exercising, along with other willpower related tasks.
Researcher like Dr Baumeister and Dr Denson in future would like to find ways to help people to gain better self-control and find new ways to inculcate better self control in young children. Such children will make a great society to live in. For now, researchers suggest improving your willpower, chose something that you would like to improve on and exercise regularly to fair it. Chose simple resolution, one at a time and work on till the time you perfect it. This will improve your confidence along with improving your will power.