Impulsive Much? You're Probably Selfish, Too

Scientists find your ability to see others' point of view is related to self-control
By Polly Davis Doig,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 26, 2016 5:48 PM CDT
Impulsive Much? Try a Little Selflessness
If you lack self-control, science thinks a little selflessness could help get you there.   (Getty Photos)

(Newser) – If your level of self-control involves spending like Paris Hilton on trust-fund day or needing to be physically restrained at an all-you-can-eat buffet, well, chances are that you also spend a fair amount of time navel-gazing and you have a hard time imagining what it's like from someone else's point of view. So say neuroscience researchers out of the University of Zurich in a study published in Science Advances; they found that impulse control is probably rooted in a region of your noggin called the posterior temporo-parietal junction (pTPJ), which helps you better put yourself in other people's shoes. "It's not that surprising," co-author Christian Ruff tells Live Science of the tie between self-restraint and empathy, "when you consider you can see yourself as another person in the future."

The researchers offered study participants between $75 and $155 they could keep or $150 they could split, with either loved ones or strangers; researchers observed most people were willing to share with their nearest and dearest, but not so much with strangers. But when scientists zapped the pTPJ, effectively silencing it, and offered participants a small, variable sum now or a bigger, known payout in three to 18 months, they observed more stinginess with others and little patience with waiting. When participants were then tested on their ability to perceive objects from an avatar's point of view, those with the most trouble doing so had lower self-control and less generosity with others. Ergo, being more generous with others may strengthen self-control—which could have implications in treating addiction, Ruff says, in that "we should perhaps think about interventions that actually foster our ability to take the perspective of others." (And anyway, evolution frowns on selfish jerks.)

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