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This Is — Literally — Your Brain On Self-Control

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A new study has reinforced the idea that self-control is a limited resource that needs to be replenished. That’s not really big news, since so many other studies have found the same thing (see The Best Posts About Helping Students Develop Their Capacity For Self-Control).

However, the big news of this study is that it has photos of what is going on in the brain when it is showing self-control and when it is not:

Hedgcock says his images seem to suggest that it’s like a pool that can be drained by use then replenished through time in a lower conflict environment, away from temptations that require its use.

That’s exactly how I’ve applied previous research on this topic, particularly through the use of “Reflection Cards.”

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Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

One Comment

  1. NOTE: This comment is from Kathy Sierra. There were some technical problems with her posting it, so I’ve posted it for her…

    “This topic — the scarcity of cognitive resources — is the one that has had
    the biggest impact on the direction of my work in the last few years. The
    crucial point the studies have given us is the importance of *avoiding*
    cognitive drains whenever possible. Learning to develop more self-control is a
    hard climb with only limited success (though still crucial, of course), while
    *avoiding* drains and temptations when you ARE drained is both highly effective
    and preserves those resources for other things.

    The science around cognitive resources has made me rethink most of my earlier
    work on “building engagement”. One day, education reform will (we hope hope
    hope) remove the need for students to study and test on topics we’ve failed to
    make a compelling case for, but in the meantime, trying to “get them engaged” in
    ALL of those topics just means spreading cog resources too thinly. And while not
    entirely zero-sum, there are hard cognitive limits to those resources, so why
    not pick our battles carefully, building engagement around the ones we truly
    believe will serve them. As for the others, I have done a 180 and now believe we
    should encourage, support, and even teach them to use the least amount of
    resources needed for cramming and passing the test.

    We already know they’ll forget much of what they had to “learn” once the
    test/class is over, so I’d rather make them even more efficient at it so that
    there are more resources left for the core set of capabilities we truly want to
    build: things like learning to diagnose problems, think logically, collaborate,
    etc.

    I wish education reform would remove the need for making these choices, but
    until it gets there…”

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