One’s level of self-control can be determined from the movement of the hands when faced with opposing choices, says a new study.


In a series of experiments conducted by researchers, 81 college students were made to view pictures of a healthy and an unhealthy food on opposite sides of the top of a computer screen.

The cursor was placed at the centre bottom of the screen and they were asked to move the cursor to their more preferred choice.

They were told to choose as quickly as possible which of the two foods would most help them meet their health and fitness goals.


The researchers watched as people’s hands revealed the struggle they were under to choose “the long-term goal over short-term temptation”.

People who moved the cursor closer to the unhealthy treat (even when they ultimately made the healthy choice) showed less self-control than did those who made a more direct path to the healthy snack, the researchers said.

“Our hand movements reveal the process of exercising self-control,” said Paul Stillman, co-author of the study and postdoctoral researcher in psychology at the Ohio State University.


Stillman conducted the study with Melissa Ferguson, professor of psychology, and Danila Medvedev, a former undergraduate student, both from Cornell University.

“You can see the struggle as it happens. For those with low self-control, the temptation is actually drawing their hand closer to the less-healthy choice,” Stillman said.

“The more they were pulled toward the temptation on the computer screen, the more they actually chose the temptations and failed at self-control.

“But for those with higher levels of self-control, the path to the healthy food was more direct, indicating that they experienced less conflict.


“This mouse-tracking metric could be a powerful new tool to investigate real-time conflict when people have to make decisions related to self-control.”

The research will appear in the journal Psychological Science.

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