Researchers have found that a person’s hands betray their inner struggle when making decisions, such as when facing temptation and having to choose to resist it. Hand movements during these decision-making processes can indicate whether the person is likely to give in to temptation in the future, all the while revealing to others the kind of struggle that is taking place in their mind. The research helps shed light on the topic of human willpower.
The study was conducted by researchers with The Ohio State University and Cornell University. Talking about it, study co-author and The Ohio State University postdoctoral researcher Paul Stillman said, “Our hand movements reveal the process of exercising self-control. You can see the struggle as it happens.” How was this determined?
The researchers conducted an experiment in which volunteers were presented with unhealthy and healthy food choices on a computer screen. They were tasked with choosing one of the food items while researchers monitored where their cursor moved. Those who moved the cursor closer to the unhealthy food — despite ultimately choosing the healthy food — were more likely to exhibit less self-control versus those who beelined for the healthy food.
This is only one of multiple experiments that were conducted; others showed food images while tasking volunteers with choosing the healthy eating option as fast as possible. After the study was over, the volunteers were allowed to choose either a real apple or real candy bar as a treat. Those who chose the candy bar had exhibited a higher instance of moving the cursor toward the unhealthy food.
The study indicates that an individual’s hands tend to move toward the source of their temptation, betraying an internal struggle to make the better decision. This higher instance of internal struggle more often meant that the person would give in to temptation, whereas people who moved right to the best option demonstrated less inner conflict. The research helps highlight the way in which decisions are made in moments when self-control is necessary.