Self-control across species (Columba livia, Homo sapiens, and Rattus norvegicus)

J Comp Psychol. 1994 Jun;108(2):126-33. doi: 10.1037/0735-7036.108.2.126.


Data from six previous studies of self-control behavior were compared against predictions made by the matching law and by molar maximization. The studies involved pigeons (Columba livia), rats (Rattus norvegicus), and 3-year-old, 5-year-old, and adult humans (Homo sapiens) who had received food as the reinforcer, and adult humans who had received points exchangeable for money as the reinforcer. Neither theory proved to be an accurate or better predictor for all groups. In contrast to the predictions of these theories, self-control was shown to vary according to species, human age group, and reinforcer quality. When the reinforcer was food, the self-control of different species was found to be negatively correlated with metabolic rate; that is, larger species showed greater self-control. These results suggest that allometric scaling may prove useful in describing and predicting species differences in self-control.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Child, Preschool
  • Choice Behavior*
  • Columbidae*
  • Hominidae*
  • Humans
  • Impulsive Behavior*
  • Rats*
  • Reinforcement, Psychology