Research Cases

Self-Control and its Failure: Inter-Temporal Dimensions of Health Behavior

By September, 2015 No Comments
Couple running in Brooklyn

Warren Bickel, Ph.D., Director, Addiction Recovery Research Center; Professor of Psychology, College of Science; Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine, Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine; Inaugural Holder, Virginia Tech Carilion Behavioral Health Research Professorship

Jeffrey S. Stein, Ph.D., Research Assistant Professor, Addiction Recovery Research Center, Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute

Date Published
September, 2015

Self-control and its failure are associated with, respectively, many health benefits and challenges. One primary component of self-control is delay discounting, or the devaluation of rewards with increasing delay. High rates of delay discounting are pervasive in disorders such as addiction, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and pathological gambling; and are similarly associated with failure to engage in preventive health behaviors and prescribed medical treatment. These findings suggest that high rates of delay discounting are a behavioral marker for a trans-disease process—that is, a process that spans disorder type, wherein seemingly distinct disordered health behaviors may share the same etiology and courses of treatment. However, the capacity for self-control lies at the complex intersection of biology and the environment. A more detailed understanding of how delay discounting may interact with other variables to predispose individuals toward disordered health behavior awaits synoptic, multi-modal assessment. The Human Project provides such an opportunity, and can provide unique insights and suggest treatment and prevention strategies to improve public health on a large scale.