A recent study by a team of researchers from Kansas State University demonstrated increases in both self-control and timing precision as an effect of a time-based intervention. These findings support a possible role for temporal processing in impulsive choice behavior and supply novel behavioral interventions to decrease impulsive behavior in conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, substance abuse and obesity.
In the study titled, “Mechanisms of impulsive choice: II. Time-based interventions to improve self-control,” recently published in the Journal of Behavioral Processes, the research team led by Kimberly Kirkpatrick from the Department of Psychological Therapies examined rats’ impulsivity behavior in order to look for timing precision and decision-making processes.
“Our previous research found that individual rats with greater self-control have a better understanding of delays, which means that they can wait for a longer period of time to earn a larger reward,” said Kimberly Kirkpatrick, professor of psychological sciences at Kansas State University in a recent news release. “We more recently conducted experiments to determine if we could teach individual rats to be less impulsive and found that time-based interventions can be an effective mechanism to increase self-control.”
Based on these results, the researchers believe that time-based interventions are a functional method to help individuals in making good decisions. “For example, we all know some of us are better at deferring the chocolate cake and opting for the fruit platter instead, whereas others are prone to giving in and making these impulsive choices,” she said in the news release. “We hope these interventions can help those more impulsive individuals learn not to choose the chocolate cake — at least not every time.”
Findings from this study can be applied to conditions with impulsive behaviors such as obesity and substance abuse, however, at the moment the researchers are focusing first on addressing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) interventions.
“Up to 15 percent of the population may suffer from ADHD during development and our main way of treating it is with medication,” Kirkpatrick said. “We think having alternatives is a good thing. If we could use behavioral interventions to help people gain better self-control, we think this could be a nice addition or alternative to medication.”
Furthermore, Kimberly Kirkpatrick and colleagues are collaborating with the University of Kansas Medical Center in the development of a game that teaches children that if they delay their response, they can get a reward. In the game “space invader,” children need to shoot missiles at specific targets; however, they need to wait for the missiles to charge before they can shoot. Through this fun approach, the children learn to delay responses.