Graduation Year


Date of Submission


Document Type

Open Access Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


W.M. Keck Science Department

Second Department


Reader 1

Alison Harris

Reader 2

Catherine Reed

Rights Information

© 2015 Samuel I. Dunham


In our everyday lives, we must often weigh the different attributes of items in order to select the item that best fits our current goals, allowing us to make optimal decisions. Construal Level Theory proposes a psychological mechanism for re-weighting attributes, utilizing selective attention as the process by which we implement self-control. It has been hypothesized that switching attention between attributes is facilitated by the suppression of cortical oscillations over posterior brain regions within the alpha (8-12 Hz) frequency range. To test this idea, we re-examined previously collected whole-brain electroencephalography (EEG) data from a dietary choice experiment in which participants made decisions naturally or with a weight loss incentive. Prior analysis found that although hungry subjects primarily relied on taste properties while responding naturally, they increased their behavioral and neural weighting of health when motivated to lose weight. Reanalyzing this data using time-frequency analyses, we compared alpha oscillations related to healthy versus unhealthy foods under natural and self-control conditions. We predicted that when participants exercised self-control we would see suppression of alpha oscillations over occipital sensors starting around 400 ms post-stimulus onset, for trials presenting healthy relative to unhealthy foods; no such suppression should appear during natural responding when ignoring health information. Consistent with our hypothesis, we found a significant decrease in alpha oscillations over occipital sensors between 440 and 800 ms post-stimulus onset for healthy compared to unhealthy items in the self-control condition. No such effect was seen for health information in natural choice, or for taste. Our findings extend previous research by linking alpha band suppression to the neural re-weighting of multiple attributes, suggesting a neuro-cognitive mechanism for self-control that uses selective attention to choose between multiple attributes.