Neuroscientists studying human decision-making say when we think about future rewards such as health over shorter-term pleasures such as digging into that cheeseburger, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is typically acting in concert with the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday.
However, if we succumb to the temptation to go for unhealthy foods, researchers say, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex is involved but is acting without the more sober input from the lobe next door.
In a study of 33 hungry young adults not trying to lose weight who were offered a number of food choices while lying in a brain scanner, external "cues that direct attention to the health features of food" caused them to take health benefits more heavily into account, the study found.
Subjects asked to consider the healthfulness of a food before choosing were more likely to choose healthy foods, and their brain activity showed the patterns of long-term reward preference that researchers were looking for.
Public health campaigns using labeling schemes drawing attention to the healthy attributes of a grocery item and launching public service announcements about the benefits of healthy eating could make use of this "external cue" effect on our brain choices, researchers say.