We're Only Human: Dog Tired; November / December 2010; Scientific American Mind; by Wray Herbert; 2 Page(s)
We humans like to think that we have much more self-discipline than other animals. We know how to set goals—losing 25 pounds, starting our own businesses—and then we resist temptations and slog through difficulties to achieve them. We are far from perfect at this talent, but in most of our minds there is no question that our powerful self-control is one of the things that sets us apart from more lowly beasts.
Scientists have long argued that delaying gratification requires a sense of “self.” Having a personal identity allows us to compare who we are today, at this very moment, with who we want to be—an idealized self. Such aspirations are thought to foster the kind of behavior that leads to self-improvement. But new research suggests a more primitive source of our powers of self-discipline. It appears that, lofty as our goals may be, we rely on the same basic biological mechanism for self-discipline as our four-legged best friends.