Sugar boosts self-control, study says

November 7, 2012

(Medical Xpress)—To boost self-control, gargle sugar water. According to a study co-authored by University of Georgia professor of psychology Leonard Martin published Oct. 22 in Psychological Science, a mouth rinse with glucose improves self-control.

His study looked at 51 students who performed two tasks to test . The first task, which has shown to deplete self-control, was the meticulous crossing out of Es on a page from a statistics book. Then, participants performed what is known as the Stroop task where they were asked to identify the color of various words flashed on a screen, which spell out the names of other colors. The Stroop task's goal is to turn off the student's tendency to read the words and instead see the colors.

Half of the students rinsed their mouths with sweetened with sugar while performing the Stroop test, the other half with Splenda-sweetened lemonade. Students who rinsed with sugar, rather than , were significantly faster at responding to the color rather than the word.

"Researchers used to think you had to drink the glucose and get it into your body to give you the energy to (have) self control," Martin said. "After this trial, it seems that glucose stimulates the simple sensors on the tongue. This, in turn, signals the motivational centers of the brain where our self-related goals are represented. These signals tell your body to pay attention."

It took subjects about 3-5 minutes to perform the Stroop test. Martin said results show a measure of self-control, but a glucose mouthwash might not be enough to solve some of the biggest self-control obstacles like or smoking.

"The research is not clear yet on the effects of swishing with glucose on long-term self-control," he said. "So, if you are trying to quit smoking, a swish of lemonade may not be the total cure, but it certainly could help you in the short run."

Martin, in collaboration with co-author Matthew Sanders, a doctoral candidate also in the UGA Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, believes the motivation comes in the form of self-values, or emotive investment.

"It is the self-investment," Martin said. "It doesn't just crank up your energy, but it cranks up your personal investment in what you are doing. Clicking into the things that are important to you makes those self-related goals salient."

They theorized that the glucose causes emotive enhancement, leading the person to pay attention to their goals and perform better at evoking the non-dominant response.

"The glucose seems to be good at getting you to stop an automatic response such as reading the words in the Stroop task and to substitute the second harder one in its place such as saying the color the word is printed in," he said. "It can enhance emotive investment and self-relevant goals."

Previous self-control studies showed a marked decrease in performance for the second task.

"Previous studies suggest the first task requires so much energy, you just don't have the energy left for the second task that you need," Martin said. "We are saying when people engage in self-control, they ignore important aspects of their goals and feelings. If you have to stay late at work, for example, but you really want to be going home, you have to ignore your desire to go home. Doing so will help you stay late at work, but it may also put you out of touch with what you personally want and feel on later tasks. Swishing glucose can focus you back on those goals and feelings and this, in turn, can help you perform better on the second task. In short, we believe self-control goes away because people send away, not because they don't have energy. People turn it off on purpose."

Martin's research focused on what the affects of swishing psychologically rather than physiologically. "We think it makes your self-related goals come to mind," he said.

Martin's lab is continuing to study how subjects evoke and interpret emotive responses.

Explore further: Belief in god cuts two ways, study finds

Related Stories

Belief in god cuts two ways, study finds

October 27, 2011

Being reminded of the concept of God can decrease people's motivation to pursue personal goals but can help them resist temptation, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association.

Recommended for you

Serious research into what makes us laugh

November 24, 2015

More complex jokes tend to be funnier but only up to a point, Oxford researchers have found. Jokes that are too complicated tend to lose the audience.

Psychologists dispute continuum theory of sexual orientation

November 19, 2015

Washington State University researchers have established a categorical distinction between people who are heterosexual and those who are not. By analyzing the reported sexual behavior, identity and attraction of more than ...

Babies have logical reasoning before age one, study finds

November 18, 2015

Human infants are capable of deductive problem solving as early as 10 months of age, a new study by psychologists at Emory University and Bucknell finds. The journal Developmental Science is publishing the research, showing ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1 / 5 (2) Nov 07, 2012
Sugar makes me tired and splenda gives me a headache that will turn into a migraine unless I take a nap. This study is silly :P
Nov 08, 2012
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
1.5 / 5 (2) Nov 08, 2012
My dentist says: don't even think about it.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.