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Can we have a second helping? A preregistered direct replication study on the neurobiological mechanisms underlying self‐control

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Christin Scholz, Hang-Yee Chan, Russell A. Poldrack, Denise T. D. De Ridder, Ale Smidts, Laura Nynke Van Der Laan

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4995-5016
Number of pages22
JournalHuman Brain Mapping
Issue number16
Accepted/In press9 Sep 2022
PublishedNov 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information: This work is supported by a governmental research grant: the call for Replication studies of the Dutch Science Foundation (NWO) (grant number: 401.16.023). The funding source had no role in the design of this study, the data collection, analysis and interpretation of data; in the writing of the report; and in the decision to submit the article for publication. Publisher Copyright: © 2022 The Authors. Human Brain Mapping published by Wiley Periodicals LLC.

King's Authors


Self-control is of vital importance for human wellbeing. Hare et al. (2009) were among the first to provide empirical evidence on the neural correlates of self-control. This seminal study profoundly impacted theory and empirical work across multiple fields. To solidify the empirical evidence supporting self-control theory, we conducted a preregistered replication of this work. Further, we tested the robustness of the findings across analytic strategies. Participants underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging while rating 50 food items on healthiness and tastiness and making choices about food consumption. We closely replicated the original analysis pipeline and supplemented it with additional exploratory analyses to follow-up on unexpected findings and to test the sensitivity of results to key analytical choices. Our replication data provide support for the notion that decisions are associated with a value signal in ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC), which integrates relevant choice attributes to inform a final decision. We found that vmPFC activity was correlated with goal values regardless of the amount of self-control and it correlated with both taste and health in self-controllers but only taste in non-self-controllers. We did not find strong support for the hypothesized role of left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC) in self-control. The absence of statistically significant group differences in dlPFC activity during successful self-control in our sample contrasts with the notion that dlPFC involvement is required in order to effectively integrate longer-term goals into subjective value judgments. Exploratory analyses highlight the sensitivity of results (in terms of effect size) to the analytical strategy, for instance, concerning the approach to region-of-interest analysis.

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