When you restrict your impulses, you interfere with your brain’s ability to form memories. Does this mean cheating and doing drugs is good for you?

Self-control is good, right? After all, it’s the thing that keeps us from sucker-punching the parking ticket man and breaking out into our favorite song, “The Roof Is On Fire!” when the airplane starts its initial descent. This animal-instinct blocker is what keeps couples faithful and bath salts out of your blood stream.

However, new research shows that exercising your pious willpower might not be as good for you as you think. In fact, one study by researchers Yu-Chin and Tobias Egner from Duke University recently showed that self-control actually depletes your brain’s memory resources, making you just a little bit stupider every time you refuse that third (or seventh, let's be honest) piece of pizza.

Here’s why: the neural networks that regulate self-control share a similar brain structure to the ones that help regulate memory, and they overlap in the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex. This makes it so that when one system is in use, the other is slightly impaired. So, if you’re over in the corner self-flagellating yourself with puritanical self-discipline, you’re blocking certain neurons from readily accessing and forming certain memories.

“Inhibiting your desires competes with memory encoding for common attentional resources,” concluded the study’s authors. “Essentially, because of these overlapping neural network, willpower saps common memory resources and reduces our ability to encode memories.”

To test this, researchers asked a group of volunteers to recognise a series of faces, both with and without the inclusion of a self-control test in the middle. They found that having to exercise self-control had a negative impact on the participants’ ability to recall which pictures they’d previously seen. The same experiment was then repeated with a new set of volunteers and brain-scanning fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) equipment on hand.

Making matters worse (or better), another study from Northwestern University also discovered that a lack of self-control accelerated the aging process. Lead researcher Professor Gregory Miller said: “Emerging data suggest that self-control may act as a double-edged sword, facilitating academic success and psychosocial adjustment, while at the same time undermining physical health. We find that the psychologically successful adolescents — those with high self-control — have cells that are biologically old, relative to their chronological age.” In other words, there seems to be an underlying biological cost to the self-control and the success it enables.

So, now to the burning, throbbing question we’re all asking ourselves: do these findings mean that doing drugs and fucking whoever you want are good for you?

Well, smartass, only to the extent that the behavior you’re giving in to isn’t more damaging than your surrender to self-control. For example, if you really want to do heroin then go rollerblading on a frozen lake in an Ebola-stricken nation, you should, by all means exercise self-control. However, say all you want is a puff of some weed, a handful of mini corn-dogs or to binge watch that extra episode … give into the impulse.