Molly J. Crockett, Barbara R. Braams, Luke Clark, Philippe N. Tobler, Trevor W. Robbins, Tobias Kalenscher
Neuron, Volume 79, Issue 2, 391-401, 24 July 2013
Humans can resist temptations by exerting willpower, the effortful inhibition of impulses. But willpower can be disrupted by emotions and depleted over time. Luckily, humans can deploy alternative self-control strategies like precommitment, the voluntary restriction of access to temptations. Here, we examined the neural mechanisms of willpower and precommitment using fMRI. Behaviorally, precommitment facilitated choices for large delayed rewards, relative to willpower, especially in more impulsive individuals. While willpower was associated with activation in dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), posterior parietal cortex (PPC), and inferior frontal gyrus, precommitment engaged lateral frontopolar cortex (LFPC). During precommitment, LFPC showed increased functional connectivity with DLPFC and PPC, especially in more impulsive individuals, and the relationship between impulsivity and LFPC connectivity was mediated by value-related activation in ventromedial PFC. Our findings support a hierarchical model of self-control in which LFPC orchestrates precommitment by controlling action plans in more caudal prefrontal regions as a function of expected value.