Self-control is sometimes necessary for optimal choice behavior, and perhaps even for future-oriented decision-making. Humans sometimes show self-control by choosing better, but more delayed outcomes over more immediate outcomes. However, the failure of self-control (impulsivity) underlies many problematic human behaviors, and has led humans to train themselves to overcome their animal impulses. But is it fair to assume that animals cannot do the same, and also exhibit self-control? The presentation will argue that it is not fair, and that many species do show some degree of self-control. Delaying gratification (or postponing a response to a present reward for the sake of a future bigger or better reward) is one of the hallmark aspects of self-control. It also is not a unique human capacity. The presentation will discuss recent studies with chimpanzees and other animals that examine the capacities of those animals to delay gratification and the behavioral strategies that they employ to cope with impulsivity. In some cases, there are close parallels between nonhuman animal performance and that of humans, but in other cases those similarities decrease. But, overall, comparative research suggests that humans are not alone in their capacity to demonstrate some degree of willpower.
Review Michael J. Beran’s biographical statement.