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Surprising Science

Ex-Smokers: Kings of Willpower

Psychology and neuroscience research indicates that willpower is something that can be developed and enhanced with practice. With that in mind, ex-smokers are willpower kings. 

What’s the Latest Development?

While you probably shouldn’t take up smoking just to quit, thereby improving your willpower, those who have quit demonstrate comparatively strong cognitive control.  “They once belonged to the same weak-willed camp as current smokers, those who have kicked the habit have had to repeatedly and successfully overcome the impulse to smoke. Neuroimaging studies have shown that resisting these urges engages the top and outermost regions of the brain, including many of the same dorsal-lateral regions of the prefrontal cortex associated with other types of cognitive control.”

What’s the Big Idea?

What happens to someone’s brain when they quit smoking? Besides getting more oxygen, they develop better over-all self control. “Researchers recently examined brain scans of participants performing a task requiring strict control over behaviour, and found that ex-smokers performed better and showed greater activation of the dorsal-lateral prefrontal cortex than a group of individuals who still smoke. Moreover, the results indicated that the ex-smokers were even stronger on these measures of willpower than a group of people who had never smoked. Repeatedly exercising self-control while quitting appears to have lingering benefits for exerting control over other aspects of one’s behavior.”


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