What determines the "default behaviour" if no self-control is applied?

Most documents refer to satisfaction of immediate desire, but that does not seem to explain how quite sophisticated behaviors can occur as the result of a failure of self-control. A temptation to eat fast food which involves purchasing it, or to consume internet pornography, can require higher or executive functions to satisfy in terms of computer operation and engagement with a purchasing process. A temptation to take illegal drugs can potentially require delaying gratification for an unknown period of time (to find a supplier).

So is there research on what determines the behavior without self-control, and how it is able to "hijack" executive functions that should rightfully be limiting the undesirable behavior?

  • $\begingroup$ Interesting question! It's not all black and white if one considers "cortico-cortical loops" between the cortex and the subcortex. I had to be reminded of that by others in my question here: psychology.stackexchange.com/questions/23119/… $\endgroup$ – Wuschelbeutel Kartoffelhuhn May 13 at 21:39
  • $\begingroup$ In your particular question, one probably needs to distinguish between subjects who express different levels of executive-motivational conflict. To what extent does the individual in question want to prevent the "default behavior"? $\endgroup$ – Wuschelbeutel Kartoffelhuhn May 13 at 21:40
  • $\begingroup$ I think you might be mixing different types of executive function - you should think of it as not one concept but rather a collection of concepts, which are potentially associated with some non-overlapping brain areas (though studying some of them independently is a challenge). Also, "A temptation to take illegal drugs can potentially require delaying gratification for an unknown period of time" is a very poor example of self-control: it's really quite the opposite, because the delay is externally rather than internally imposed. $\endgroup$ – Bryan Krause May 13 at 22:54
  • $\begingroup$ It's more what the definition of temptation is. For example, if an individual has to choose between two covered platters (which secretly hold, let's say, a cookie and a radish), what is the smallest amount of information necessary for this choice to become a matter of willpower? $\endgroup$ – Mark Green May 13 at 23:07
  • $\begingroup$ I suppose executive function originates from somewhere in the brain so it is never a matter of will-power. Temptations I would say are more about lower-level(physical?) needs. The only valuable research in this area for me is studying ways to increase your capacity for making decisions at higher level of consciousness. $\endgroup$ – Borut Flis May 14 at 11:26

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