Self-regulatory failure is a core feature of many social and mental health problems. Self-regulation can be undermined by failures to transcend overwhelming temptations, negative moods and resource depletion, and when minor lapses in self-control snowball into self-regulatory collapse. Cognitive neuroscience research suggests that successful self-regulation is dependent on top-down control from the prefrontal cortex over subcortical regions involved in reward and emotion. We highlight recent neuroimaging research on self-regulatory failure, the findings of which support a balance model of self-regulation whereby self-regulatory failure occurs whenever the balance is tipped in favor of subcortical areas, either due to particularly strong impulses or when prefrontal function itself is impaired. Such a model is consistent with recent findings in the cognitive neuroscience of addictive behavior, emotion regulation and decision-making.
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