New Study Suggests Empathy is Linked to Self-Control and Addiction Recovery

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A recent study shows that self-control can help in achieving a long-term success in addiction recovery. Self-control is just a variation of empathy.

How is Empathy Linked  With Impulse Control?

According to a recent study done by the University of Zurich by Alexander Soutschek shows that the innate ability of self-control is also influenced by another brain region—the right temporoparietal junction (rTPJ) – which is linked to empathy. And the empathy, as seen in the study, is linked to self-control.

In 2005 Rebecca Sax and Nancy Kanwisher conducted a study in which volunteers were read stories about protagonists who made poor choices based on false information. While they listened to these stories, Kanwisher and Sax scanned the volunteers’ brains. What they found was that rTPJ was activated while listening, offering the conclusion that this area of the brain helps people in “reasoning about the contents of another person’s mind.” In other words, it is the basic theory of empathy.

Seeing Things From Another Person’s Perspective

Image result for empathy and addictionThe rTPJ is located just above and slightly behind the right ear. In the Soutchek’s study, they temporarily disrupted the back half of this region of the brain (the area most directly linked with empathy) in the 43 volunteers. After the disruption, those volunteers were more likely to take cash for themselves instead of splitting it with anyone else. They also were more likely to choose a lesser amount of cash immediately rather than to wait for a larger amount in the future.

In the second experiment, the same volunteers were shown a picture of a man in a room. There were few discs covering one of the walls. But, the participants were asked to tell researchers how many discs the man in the picture was able to see from his own viewpoint (different from that of the volunteers looking at the picture). In order to do so, they had to shift their perspective to his perspective. After the disruption of the rTPJ, participants were less able to get the right answer. They were less able to leave their own heads, and see the wall in the way the man in the pic would see the wall. Stouchek confirmed that their inability to see the room from another’s perspective when the rTPJ was disrupted is the same part of the brain responsible for their own impulsiveness and selfishness – the opposite of self-control.

Self-Control: Empathy with Your Future Self

Empathy is an ability to understand, to be aware of or to be sensitive to feelings, thoughts, and experiences of other person’s without actually communicating specifically with their own feelings or thoughts.

Being able to understand the feelings of another human is very similar to that of being able to understand the feelings of your own future self. Your future self is a separate identity, but a not-yet-existing entity. It is someone who exists only in the future. Thus, your future self might as well be a very different person entirely. Hence those who hold the ability to empathize with other individuals have an easier time empathizing their future self and thus using self-control to ensure that ‘future you’ is happier.

The Use of Self-Control for Addiction Treatment

Image result for Empathy is Linked to Self-Control and Addiction Recovery

When you are struggling with addiction, immediate gratification or, accessing the substance/ process you are addicted to immediately – is your primary and often the only concern. The more empathetic you are, the more you are able to hold out in long-term goals. When you are in the process of recovery and have an urge for the behavior you are addicted to, the immediate response is the desire to get that. However, when if you stop and empathize with your future self – imagine your future self-dealing with overdose or relapse if you indulge, or alternatively imagine a happy and a healthy future self who don’t  indulge in their addiction – you are less likely to act on your urges.

Increasing Self-Control through Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a kind of therapy normally used in addiction treatment. CBT “focuses on the development of personal coping strategies which targets on solving current problems and changing unhelpful patterns in cognitions (eg, thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes), behaviors, as well as emotional regulation.” CBT is also used to increase empathy and self-control in the addicts. By understanding the thought processes and behaviors, you become better at understanding your reasons for wanting instant gratification.  At the same time, you may also try to empathize with your future self and make a better, wiser and healthier decision about your actions.

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