Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Self control without a self...

The fact that humans are better at self control (delayed gratification) than animals is often attributed to their having a sense of self that animal lack. Simple body chemistry also appears to play a role. Miller et al. point to a regulator of self control that is common to humans and dogs: blood glucose. Here is their abstract:
Self-control constitutes a fundamental aspect of human nature. Yet there is reason to believe that human and nonhuman self-control processes rely on the same biological mechanism—the availability of glucose in the bloodstream. Two experiments tested this hypothesis by examining the effect of available blood glucose on the ability of dogs to exert self-control. Experiment 1 showed that dogs that were required to exert self-control on an initial task persisted for a shorter time on a subsequent unsolvable task than did dogs that were not previously required to exert self-control. Experiment 2 demonstrated that providing dogs with a boost of glucose eliminated the negative effects of prior exertion of self-control on persistence; this finding parallels a similar effect in humans. These findings provide the first evidence that self-control relies on the same limited energy resource among humans and nonhumans. Our results have broad implications for the study of self-control processes in human and nonhuman species.


  1. Anonymous9:29 AM

    So, self-control is more a factor of satiation then of speciation, eh?

  2. Yet, as humans, we can reverse our biological and neural "hard-wiring" with conscious and repeated intention. Its easy to become victims to our animal instincts, but as humans, we can do amazing things when we put our minds to it.

  3. This is helpful. I am working on deeply learned behaviors like smoking ( and personality attributes. It is interesting how this might play into the resolve necessary to change some habits. Very doable, but some people find it much harder than others. Maybe this is part of the puzzle. Very interesting to think what this means to diet programs.