Is Willpower Innate?
Is willpower something that we’re born with and live with our entire lives?
Sam Wang is an associate professor, Department of Molecular Biology and the Princeton Neuroscience Institute.
Wang grew up in California and studied physics at the California Institute of Technology. Seeking his Ph.D. at Stanford University, he switched to neuroscience. He has worked at Duke University as a postdoctoral fellow and aided political leaders as a Congressional Science Fellow. After completing his postdoctoral studies, he spent two years at Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, N.J., where he learned to use pulsed lasers to study brain signaling before coming to Princeton.
Wang, who has published more than 40 articles on the brain in leading scientific journals. His educational reach extends past the laboratory and classroom in his books, popular articles and efforts to convey neuroscience to interested nonscientists.
Is willpower something that we’re born with and live with our entire lives? We often think about many of our personality traits and our mental traits as being things we’re born with. But many things, including personality, willpower, intelligence, all things are endowments we are born with a tendency towards, but then we use throughout life and we can build up.
And so willpower has the interesting quality of being like personality and like other traits in that it’s partly heritable so that we have a certain amount of common amount of willpower with say, our parents, and that’s true even if we’ve never met our parents because it’s inherited through DNA. But willpower is also something that we can build up through practice like a muscle.
And so just as a person might have an innate capacity to being a body builder or very good at a particular physical skill, and then also build it over time, willpower is like that. Willpower is like a muscle where we have some predisposition to have a certain amount of it, but also a thing we can build up over time.
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