We regularly experience situations where we have to control our thoughts and behaviours, such as resisting the urge to check our phone or not losing ourselves in stressful ruminations. Having a strong ability to exert self-control over our urges has been linked to positive mental health and well-being. Poor self-control can be frustrating and demoralising, and for some people it is linked to mental health problems, like obsessional thoughts and compulsive behaviours.
There are very few strategies that can help us improve control over our thoughts and actions. Cognitive training, involving computerised programs that practice the skill of self-control, have been investigated but outcomes are mixed. The impact of physical training (i.e. physical exercise) is also increasingly being studied, with promising early results. Both cognitive and physical training can modulate the neurocognive systems that underpin strong mental and physical control. As such, there may be benefit in combining them into training paradigms that involve cognitively-effortful physical exercise.
This proof-of-principle EEG study will investigate whether cognitive training, physical training or a strategic combination of the two can strengthen the neural processes that underpin different aspects of self-control. The findings will inform whether these kinds of behavioural training methods could be helpful for people living with compulsive mental health problems.