B.E. For Dogs: Lack of Self-Control

B.E. for Dogs is a bi-weekly comic series that will examine concepts in behavioral economics from the perspective of our canine companions. Look out for new comics every other week!

The series is created by Matt TrowerCatherine Berman, and Jamie Foehl.

lack of self control | Behavioral economics Duke university

Lack of Self-Control: Why do people (and pups!) give in to temptation? Lack of self-control. It’s extremely difficult to pass up on something that’s tempting in the moment when the benefit of delayed gratification is not immediately apparent. The classic self-control study started in a nursery school in the 1960s. Walter Mischel and his researchers placed a marshmallow in front of each child. The child was told that they could eat the marshmallow right now or that they could wait 15 minutes and get two marshmallows. The researchers kept track of the children in the original study and found that those who were able to resist the marshmallow performed better in a number of areas including academic success. The children with high self-control were also less likely to have negative outcomes such as jail time or certain health conditions.

Mischel found that people are able to delay gratification when they change how they think about the object or action they want to resist. For example, during the marshmallow test, one child said that he imagined the marshmallow was a cloud instead of a tasty treat. This approach might not work as well for a dog, since some dogs would probably try to eat a cloud.

Mischel, W., & Baker, N. (1975). Cognitive appraisals and transformations in delay behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 31(2), 254-261.