Researchers from the Stanford University School of Medicine apparently have identified evidence that sheds some light on the human capacity to succumb to a "moment of weakness," or when people simply give in to their impulses no matter the stakes.

It could be as simple as reaching for the cookie jar when one knows they've had too much already, or purchasing something that wasn't originally in their shopping list, or smoking another cigarette after they've vowed to quit the habit.

Attempting To Quash Human Impulses

In a report published on Monday, Dec. 18, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, neuroscientists from Stanford University say they've managed to determine what part of the brain makes mice decide to pig out. When they do, the researchers promptly employ a quick zap to that region, which helps to prevent the rodents from overindulging. In short, they've found a telltale brain activity that comes up shortly before mice decide to eat voraciously.

While the method worked on mice, it doesn't mean that the same could be applied to humans to curb their impulsive behavior. The researchers used a brain simulation device that's already approved for a severe form of epilepsy.

A clinical trial of this brain-zapping method in the context of treating some forms of obesity could be under way, says Casey Halpern an assistant professor of neurosurgery at Stanford and the one who led the study.

"We've identified a real-time biomarker for impulsive behavior," said Halpern.

"Imagine if you could predict and prevent a suicide attempt, a heroin injection, a burst of binge eating or alcohol intake, or a sudden bout of uncontrolled rage."

Brain Zapping: How It Works

Halpern explains that not all impulses represent negative sudden behaviors. In fact, these occur because humans need it for survival.

"Impulses are normal and absolutely necessary for survival. They convert our feelings about what's rewarding into concrete action to obtain food, sex, sleep and defenses against rivals or predators."

Some impulses run the risk of being pathological, with people making bad decisions and engaging in poor habits as a result. One does not need to look far to see examples of this. Sexual allegations are increasingly coming to the fore these days, showing how predators repeatedly acted on impulses that negatively affected or traumatized their victims. It's sexual appetite taken to a pathological level, Halpern puts.

Explains Halpern: The nucleus accumbens is the center of the brain's reward system, which gives humans the feeling of pleasure whenever they perform actions that help their survival. The study hopes to create a brain implant that monitors this brain region to determine telltale signals that are sent whenever someone is about to act on an impulse. When a person is about to do something impulsive, the device jolts the nucleus accumbens with a measured dose of electricity, "zapping" it. This could ultimately prevent the person from following that impulse.

That said, the researchers would still need to figure out whether this system would work on people, given that they have far more complex brain circuitries than mice and certainly other animals as well.

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