A new discovery has shed light on why we opt for instant gratification instead of long-term rewards, providing insight into consumer behavior and new treatments for drug addiction.

According to researchers at four universities, the dilemmas we face when we try to balance near-term rewards with long-term goals is, in fact, a battle between two areas of the brain.

The collaboration between researchers at Princeton University, Harvard University, Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh grew out of the emerging discipline of neuroeconomics, which investigates the mental and neural processes that drive economic decision-making.

“This is part of a series of studies we’ve done that illustrate that we are rarely of one mind,” says Jonathan Cohen of Princeton’s Center for the Study of Brain, Mind and Behavior. “We have different neural systems that evolved to solve different types of problems, and our behavior is dictated by the competition or cooperation between them.”

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