New brain research has found that when your brain is overloaded, it's hard to make good choices. I heard about this twice, once on Radiolab and once on Fresh Air. (Yes, I'm a huge NPR geek.) If it's really true, it sure explains a lot.
Subjects were given a number to remember; then they were supposed to walk down the hall to another room and tell the person in that room the number. While they were walking down the hall, they were stopped by a person who offered them a snack choice, a decadent slice of chocolate cake or a "responsible" fruit salad.
Turns out the longer the number (meaning the more complicated the task), the more likely they were to choose the chocolate cake. If they had a two-digit number, fruit salad for them. If they had a seven-digit number? Chocolate cake all the way. The discrepancy was off the scale, in research terms: twice as often.
(No word at this point about whether everyone actually liked both fruit salad and chocolate cake. Or whether there was a male/female difference. Or whether people chose the cake because it was the first choice offered. Or whether anyone responded with my first impulse: "Don't talk to me, you idiot! I'm trying to remember this ginormous number until I get to room 2.")
So they think they've proved that it's much harder to exercise "willpower" when your brain is "overwhelmed" with information. Not enough processing power left in the old noggin.
I'm not sure I buy that, but it's really interesting. It does tend to explain why I am barely fitting into my pre-law school clothes.
(Photo of cake courtesy of Southern Living magazine, although they don't actually know it. If you're trying to remember lots of information today, the recipe is available here.)