It’s late January; do you know where your resolutions are?

New Year’s festivities have come and gone, and now, a few weeks into 2013, a few earnestly made resolutions may have fallen by the wayside. If you’re struggling with yours, two PLOS ONE studies could offer some hints for success.

The first report describes an investigation into three facets of goal attainment: keeping a goal active in your working memory; being aware of your current state, monitoring progress, and adjusting performance; and not behaving contrary to the goal.

The researchers used brain imaging during a simple task to explore interactions between these processes. They found that high demand for “goal maintenance” — keeping a goal active in your working memory — was correlated with lowered brain activity related to avoiding counterproductive behaviors, called “response inhibition.” In other words, if participants had to spend a lot of energy trying to remember their goals, they didn’t seem to have the brain energy to stop negative behaviors. The authors suggest that people might be able to counter this effect by increasing visual reminders of their goal, thereby decreasing the need for goal maintenance and freeing up resources for response inhibition.

Alternatively, you could try adding a financial bonus to the mix; results from a second study show that the promise of a monetary reward can immediately improve performance, even on an intermediate task not directly associated with the reward.

Participants in the study were presented with a simple aural task — identify whether two tones were high-pitched or low — and offered a financial reward for making a quick decision on the second note. The researchers found that this promised reward improved the participants’ performance for the entire task.

It isn’t clear, however, if the observed effect requires similarity between the intermediate task and the rewarded task. In this study, the two were identical, but the authors suggest that this may not need to be the case. They note that very different tasks may require similar preparation, and their results suggest that preparing for the future rewarded task is a key part of the observed effect.

So, if you’ve fallen off your resolution wagon and are looking for a way to get back on track, it’s not be too late — and you may even be able to make a little money out of the deal.


Berkman ET, Falk EB, Lieberman MD (2012) Interactive Effects of Three Core Goal Pursuit Processes on Brain Control Systems: Goal Maintenance, Performance Monitoring, and Response Inhibition. PLoS ONE 7(6): e40334. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0040334

Zedelius CM, Veling H, Bijleveld E, Aarts H (2012) Promising High Monetary Rewards for Future Task Performance Increases Intermediate Task Performance. PLoS ONE 7(8): e42547. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0042547

Image: alykat on Flickr

PLOS ONE Papers of 2012

As we start off the New Year, we wanted to take a quick moment and highlight a few noteworthy papers published in 2012. Of the 23,468 papers published last year, five are already in the top 12 most viewed PLOS papers to date. Although they may not have gotten the press coverage of those listed in our 2012 Media Round-Up, Article Level Metrics reveal they’ve certainly received a lot of attention.

Published just over three months ago, a study showing that withdrawal symptoms of marijuana can be similar to those of tobacco is the third most highly viewed article published by any PLOS journal. With 227,928 total article views since publication on September 26, 2012 it’s only a few thousand views short of the top two articles published in 2008 and 2009. Other highly viewed ONE articles from 2012 include a study of genetic alterations in a line of flies reared in the dark (197,150 views since publication in March), the ecosystem implications of an invasive species (174,742 total article views, published September), an experiment depicted in Figure 3 to the right in immersive virtual reality between rats and humans (139,683 total article views, published in October), and a comparison of Westerners energetics with those of a hunter-gatherer society (102,167 total article views, published in July).

2012 also brought several papers describing new species, one of which was recognized as the “Best new species that was hiding in plain sight” by Jason G. Goldman of Scientific American. Other papers of note questioned beliefs about the limitations of alternative agriculture and challenged trusted measurements such as the Body Mass Index, commonly used to determine obesity rates.

Several more papers could even help support or inspire your New Year’s Resolutions. Whether it is to spend more time outdoors, watch what you eat, lose weight or conquer your fears, ONE has published research to help motivate those resolutions.

2012 was a year of growth and innovation for PLOS ONE, here’s looking forward to another great year!