People do not always do what they believe is in their best interest. This is strikingly true of the individual struggling with addiction. But it is also evident in more commonplace phenomena like overeating, spending beyond one’s means, over-indulgence in passive entertainment, and other bad habits too common to be considered pathological. At the same time, people are not powerless against these failings. In everyday life, people refer to their efforts to overcome these behaviors as “self-control” or “willpower.”

Our lab is working towards a mechanistic understanding of self-control. In much of our work, we use functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI). We are also interested in addiction and obesity, both of which bring self-control struggle to the fore.

Addiction: We currently are working on several projects related to addiction. We are examining how changes in emotions and decision-making over time relate to changes in functioning among active heroin users. This work is led by Nina Christie. We are also examining the stability of delay discounting over a 10-year period, and the degree to which it predicts successful quitting in a sample of cigarette smokers (in collaboration with Shan Luo and Eustace Hsu). And we are looking at resting state brain network anomalies associated with trauma among methamphetamine dependent women in residential treatment (work led by Tasha Poppa, and done in collaboration with Hortensia Amaro and David Black). Much of our work on addiction draws on the perspective of Picoeconomics developed by our frequent collaborator George Ainslie.
Eating: We are also interested in the interaction between homeostatic mechanisms (especially related to feeding) and self-control. This includes work in collaboration with Drs. Kathleen Page and Shan Luo on the differential endocrine signaling following consumption of sugars. This also includes a brain imaging study led by Xiaobei Zhang in which fasted participants bid on foods they can consume.


John Monterosso, PhD

Eustace Hsu, PhD

Xiaobei Zhang, MA

Nina Christie, BA

Milad Kassaie, BA

Olivia De Santis, BA


Christie, N., Hsu, E., Iskiwitch, C., Iyer, R., Graham, J., Schwartz, B., Monterosso, J. (2019) Social Cognition.

Dorton, H. M., Luo, S., Monterosso, J. R., & Page, K. A. (2017). Influences of dietary added sugar consumption on striatal food cue reactivity and postprandial GLP-1 response. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 8, 297.

Luo, S., Monterosso, J. R., Sarpelleh, K., & Page, K. A. (2015). Differential effects of fructose versus glucose on brain and appetitive responses to food cues and decisions for food rewards. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA, 112(20), 6509-14.

Lin, P. Y., Wood, W., Monterosso, J. (2016). Healthy eating habits protect against temptations. Appetite. (103) 432-40.

Clewett, D., Luo, S., Hsu, E., Ainslie, G., Mather, M., & Monterosso, J. (2014). Increased functional coupling between the left fronto-parietal network and anterior insula predicts steeper delay discounting in smokers. Hum Brain Mapp. (8), 3774-87.

Melrose, A. J., Hsu, E., & Monterosso, J. Neuroeconomic perspectives on the potent but inconsistent motivations characteristic of addiction. The Wiley Handbook on the Cognitive Neuroscience of Addiction, First edition. (2015).