Research Cases

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

By September, 2015 No Comments
Couple running in Brooklyn
Authors

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
Abstract

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.