If you often find yourself facing the consequences of impulsive decisions, you may pin the blame on a number of different factors.
Perhaps you have a hard time regaining self-control. Maybe your willpower is not as strong as it once was.
Knowing how to delay gratification, deny urges and resist cravings can lead to more success in the long run and reduce guilt and regret.
And, as Emma Young writes for the British Psychological Society, "being able to forego a reward now in favor of gaining something better later is known to be important in determining all kinds of desirable outcomes in life, including greater educational attainment, social functioning and health".
But what if you make impulsive decisions not because of weak willpower or self-control? What if the culprit is...your own immune system?
A new study published in Scientific Reports indicates that there may be existing biological systems shifting your priorities and decision-making. More specifically, the study provides evidence that raised levels of inflammation in your body can actually skew your judgment towards rewards more advantageous in the present.
Researchers at the Texas Christian University asked 159 healthy college students to complete two behavioral assessments, an impulsiveness scale and an instant gratification inventory.
Participants also reported their levels of smoking, physical activity, sleep quality, consumption of alcohol and other variables that relate to inflammation levels or instant gratification. Researchers checked blood samples as well for proteins that indicate great inflammation.
Researchers found that participants with higher inflammation levels tended to have an impulsive style of decision-making. Plus, in order to isolate any effects of inflammation from before the study on decision-making, the students were instructed to avoid inflammation-causing behaviors (smoking, drinking alcohol, etc.) 48 hours before participating.
There is more work to be done to solidify this link between undesirable behaviors and propensity to inflammation, but what scientists do know is that as your immune system responds to infection or injury, your desire for immediately available resources – good or bad – will be enhanced.
The next time you find yourself making an impulsive decision, check your vitals. Instead of immediately beating yourself up over a weak resolve, consider the idea that you may have an immune system that could use some extra care.