You know how the second you decide you're no longer eating junk food, the vending machine starts calling your name every other minute? A new study from the University of British Columbia has confirmed what we've known all along: When everyday objects become forbidden, our brains tend to focus on them more than they used to.
"Our brains give forbidden objects the same level of attention as our own personal possessions," said lead author Grace Truong.
The study — to be published in the next issue of Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience — also offered some good news, though: When that same object is forbidden to others, we become less obsessed with having it. So if you're dieting or, say, quitting smoking, strength is in numbers. Join a community, whether online or in person, that has the same goals.
Participants in the study were shown images of everyday objects and told the objects were either theirs, someone else's, forbidden to them or forbidden to everyone. Brain-imaging technology and memory tests showed that participants recognized both the forbidden objects and self-owned objects.
"Since the days of Eve and the apple, scholars have been interested in our attraction to items we should avoid," says UBC psychology professor Todd Handy, a co-author of the study. "Today, it is things like jumbo soft drinks, fatty foods and illicit substances. These new findings help to explain how our brain processes forbidden objects and suggests that, for resisting temptation, there's strength in numbers. It's harder to go it alone."