In search of a human self-regulation system

Annu Rev Neurosci. 2015 Jul 8;38:389-411. doi: 10.1146/annurev-neuro-071013-014243. Epub 2015 Apr 30.


The capacity for self-regulation allows people to control their thoughts, behaviors, emotions, and desires. In spite of this impressive ability, failures of self-regulation are common and contribute to numerous societal problems, from obesity to drug addiction. Such failures frequently occur following exposure to highly tempting cues, during negative moods, or after self-regulatory resources have been depleted. Here we review the available neuroscientific evidence regarding self-regulation and its failures. At its core, self-regulation involves a critical balance between the strength of an impulse and an individual's ability to inhibit the desired behavior. Although neuroimaging and patient studies provide consistent evidence regarding the reward aspects of impulses and desires, the neural mechanisms that underlie the capacity for control have eluded consensus, with various executive control regions implicated in different studies. We outline the necessary properties for a self-regulation control system and suggest that the use of resting-state functional connectivity analyses may be useful for understanding how people regulate their behavior and why they sometimes fail in their attempts.

Keywords: cingulo-opercular network; depletion; frontoparietal network; resting state; reward; self-control.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Emotions / physiology
  • Executive Function / physiology
  • Humans
  • Neural Pathways / physiology*
  • Neural Pathways / physiopathology*
  • Reward
  • Self-Control*