It has been argued that cognitive abilities that developed last ontogenetically are likely the first to become impaired when cognitive and/or physiological resources are compromised. In phylogeny as in ontogeny, the prefrontal cortex is a late developing region of the cortex. Late maturing areas of the dorso-lateral prefrontal cortex are primarily involved in higher executive functions. One crucial function of executive control is to enable self-control, i.e. the ability to inhibit automatic or habitual responses. Self-control requires effort and completing two successive self-control tasks, typically, produces a temporary drop in performance in the second task. It has been suggested that self-control requires an extensive amount of energy and when this energy is depleted, later self-control ability is adversely affected. In this talk, a series of experiments exploring the relationship between glucose availability and self-control performance using a neuro-cognitive approach will be presented. The data suggest that although frontal cortical areas are susceptible to limitations in fuel supply, level of motivation to perform a task can moderate the effect of impaired self-control performance following prior exertion. The results suggest that allocation of resources to limited-capacity systems is moderated by motivational factors. Putative underlying mechanisms regulating allocation of resources will be discussed.
About Prof. Sandra Sünram-Lea
My research background is in biological psychology and neuroscience, and I am interested in biological factors and mechanisms which affect human cognition and behaviour across the lifespan. Much of my research has focused on the effects of glucose administration and glucose regulatory mechanisms on human cognition.