I was recently reading a blog here, that referenced a paper done in 1999 by Baba Shiv and Alex Fedorikhin (Heart and Mind in Conflict: The Interplay of Affect and Cognition in Consumer Decision Making). In it, volunteers are asked to memorise short or long numbers and then asked to chose a snack as a reward. The snack is either fruit or cake. The actual paper seems to go into a lot of details that are irrelevent to the blog post, but doesn't actually seem to contradict anything the blog post says. The result seems to be that those with a higher cognitive load were far more likely to chose the cake than those who weren't.

I was wondering if anyone has read any further on this line of research? The actual experiment seems to imply that the connection between cognitive load and willpower may be an acute effect - possibly not lasting very long. The choice of snack is made seconds after memorising a number and while actively trying to keep the number in memory for short term recall a few minutes later. There doesn't seem to be anything about the effect on willpower minutes or hours later.

Does anyone know if the effect lasts longer than a few seconds? If so, I would be interested in whether this affect has been incorporated into any dieting strategies.

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The explanation of this I'd go to first is a system 1 / system 2 explanation (e.g. your intuitive system [system 1] picks the tastier thing, and overriding that requires activity from deliberative decision-making (system 2) that can be tied up with cognitive load), so I'd recommend looking in Thinking Fast and Slow, which I think mentions at least one Kahneman and Tversky experiment on a similar subject.

[-][anonymous]8y 1

Bingo. There is a large body of literature on the dual-process theory of mind, and the heuristics and biases literature is full of examples where cognitive load interferes with "rational" responding.

[-][anonymous]8y 1

I find the second link really interesting. If I interpret it right, the core idea is that in an ancestral environ have-to and want-to are nowhere nearly as opposed as today having to do boring admin tasks vs. screwing around on Reddit. For an animal, almost everything is they do is have-to (increases fitness) and almost everything is want-to too, either interesting or terrifying but boring is it not. For an animal, the closest thing to boredom may be doing a task without any immediate reward, which is kind of rare, a good example would be for an ape to try to crack a hard nut. In this case getting bored with it and stopping is have-to, going after an easier nut to crack increases its fitness, so the change to exploration mode happens and want-to and have-to goes hand in hand.

It takes a human mind to do have-to without want-to, to do a task without any sort of immediate reward, while the animal brain underneath is saying "stop it! you are not achieving anything! you are typing for an hour now and nobody gave you even a peanut!" and this gets interpreted as boredom. So in humans, in sophonts, have to and want to are separated. But the have-to boring tasks are tasks of which the underlying animal brain is sure that they are not working, because there is no immediate reward and thus on the animal level they are fruitless.

This gives us a dilemma. Obviously enough, one thing that would work is rewarding ourselves, the same way animals find an activity rewarding: snacks. Eating a snack during doing admin every hour and not eating that snack any other time would train our animal mind to not be frustrated with filling forms but see it as an elaborate way to mine tasty date fruits.

However it seems also that this quite simply reduces our ability to function as a human. Seeking immediate rewards is an animal thing and the most distinguishing feature of humnans is the ability to invest a lot of work without immediate rewards - sometimes without any rewards at all, like just working towards a goal that comes from an ethical principle. Not needing immediate rewards is the flip side of intelligence: it does not take any intelligence to keep pulling that lever if it reliably makes biscuits come out of the machine: intelligence kicks in when the machine stops working and we need to fix it. And intelligence is an inherently human trait that should not be trained out of ourselves.

[-][anonymous]8y 4

Anecdotally, I am better at sticking to brain-dead simple diet changes (when buying bread, pick the wholemeal rye, not the white wheat) than when people just tell me "well calculate your micros and macros", yeah, how about not having to break down every single family recipe and build them up again, no thanks.

It is not that I dislike thinking... I just dislike thinking about unpleasant things. I would rather do unpleasant things in brain turned off autopilot mode.

This is why boxing is also working better for me as an exercise than going to a gym to lift weights. The algorythm for boxing is 1. show up 2. turn off brain and do what the trainer says. The algorythm for gym stuff is 1. show up 2. is my form right and am I warmed up enough and how much did i lift the last time and and and and... no thanks.

So as far as I am concerned, the answer is yes.

The more unpleasant a task is, the lower-IQ mode I am operating in. Ask me to wipe someone's smelly butt and I will probably ask for special-ed level instructions because I will dedicate about four brain cells to the task and the rest will be fantasizing about something pleasant.

The question is, is everyone like that or it is unusual?

I have come to think as willpower depletion as: "RAM is full. To start new processes that take up cognitive resources, please terminate some of those which are running at the moment before new threads can be started."

It well explains why some people experience willpower depletion and other don't. Those that experience don't release the mental resources but their brain continues analysing the situation to learn from it.

If so, I would be interested in whether this affect has been incorporated into any dieting strategies.

How would you do that? Don't memorize long numbers right before choosing what to eat, doesn't seem very practical advice.

It's encourages grocery lists instead of keeping that information in your head, but that's best practice anyway for commitment reasons if you want to focus on buying healthy food.

[-][anonymous]8y 1

How would you do that?

Cognitive load is a fairly general phenomenon, not limited to memorizing long numbers. You can experience cognitive load simply by living a busy life where you are constantly thinking about other things, and not able to be "present".

[-][anonymous]8y 1

My anecdotal evidence seems to show the opposite. It is easier to e.g. dedicate the time to work out when I have a fairly busy job than when I am sitting at home collecting unemployment. The reason is that in the first case I am proud of myself, invigorated, uplifted, the opposite of depressed (hedonic?) and feel like "You go man! You were awesome today, now go and totally crush that workout too!" and in the second case I hate myself, feel depressed, feel like "You are just a useless bum, nobody will ever employ you, you cannot do anything right" and with that kind of weight it is hard to get off the couch.

In other words, winning and losing streaks are real when it comes to football and not gambling because of what kind of confidence they grant or take away, and being busy roughly corresponds to a winning streak and having too much free time to a losing one.

This is very counter-intuitive. Our evolutionary environment was probably the complete opposite: you bust ass if you are low down the pole and you can laze around if you are top. Yet, our instincts still seem to evaluate being busy with "I am great, so I can do even more" and having nothing to do with "I suck, I cannot do anything".

In general I don't consider going to a meditation retreat a dietary strategy, even when it increases your will power because you are more present afterwards.

[-][anonymous]8y 4

If you went to a meditation retreat for the purpose of improving your diet, then it would be a dietary strategy. In general, any practice that is carried out for the purpose of improving diet, which is based on reducing cognitive load, would be a cognitive load based dietary strategy. I can't imagine most people would use meditation for this purpose, but certainly breathing exercises or mindfulness, or simply eating and preparing meals when one is less cognitively busy.

Sorry didn'y read the post but check Neil Levy on Google scholar and Val (Michael Valentine) on the real world/CFAR for more info about this. Hope it helps bye.