We humans can often assume that what sets us apart from animals is our regal ability to possess self-control and resist temptation to achieve what is good for us. But turns out we're not as above it all as we'd like to think. (Or at the very least, we have a fair amount of company above it all.)
Studies conducted on chimps have shown that they can delay reaching for a serving of sweets placed in front of them. They also found that chimps would use toys, pictures or objects to distract them from reaching -- just like a human who flips through a magazine to sidetrack himself from that last slice of cake in the kitchen, perhaps? Dogs have also demonstrated that their self-control functions in a similar way to humans; specifically that glucose helps them exert self-control.
So the next time you're taking Fido for a restrained walk -- or watching voles parent together or getting the stink-eye from a crow -- remember that their behavior might be instinctual or primitive, but it sure isn't solely "animal."
Author's Note: 10 Surprising Behaviors in Nonhuman Animals
I guess it doesn't shock me that animals are capable of more sophisticated behaviors than eat-mate-sleep. But more than once writing this article, I gasped out loud when reading. To think that crows were actually recruited at one point to help find and identify Osama bin Laden [source: Chittim]? Or that elephants touch their tusks to the corpse of a comrade in what can be seen as a show of mourning? It's hard not to be surprised -- and occasionally straight-up impressed -- with the sophistication of our animal pals.
- Anderson, James R.; Gillies, Alasdair and Lock, Louise C. "Pan Thanatology." Current Biology. Vol. 20, Issue 8. April 27, 2010. (Oct. 25, 2012) http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0960982210001454
- Bekoff, Marc. "Grief in chimpanzees, self-control in dogs, a drowned Siberian tigress, and a hearing on the educational benefits of captive marine animals." Psychology Today. April 26, 2010. (Oct. 25, 2012) http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/animal-emotions/201004/grief-in-chimpanzees-self-control-in-dogs-drowned-siberian-tigress-and-h
- Bryner, Jeanna. "8 Humanlike Behaviors of Primates." LiveScience.com. July 29, 2011. (Oct. 25, 2012) http://www.livescience.com/15309-humanlike-behaviors-primates.html
- Chittim, Gary. "Military asked UW to ramp up crow study for bin Laden search." King5.com. May 4, 2011. (Oct. 25, 2012) http://www.king5.com/news/environment/Osamas-UW-Crow-Connection-121288269.html
- Choi, Charles Q. "Leafing through magazines, chimps exhibit self-control." LiveScience.com. Sept. 5, 2007. (Oct. 25, 2012) http://www.livescience.com/1829-leafing-magazines-chimps-exhibit-control.html
- Dreifus, Claudia. "Why bonobos don't kill each other." The New York Times. July 5, 2010. (Oct. 25, 2012) http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/06/science/06conv.html
- Gannon, Megan. "Crows hold grudges in humanlike fashion." LivesScience.com. Sept. 11, 2012. (Oct. 25, 2012) http://www.livescience.com/23090-crows-grudges-brains.html
- Ham, Becky. "Frans de Waal: Empahy is Shared Across Species." American Association for the Advancement of Science. Feb. 27, 2012. (Oct. 25, 2012) http://news.aaas.org/2012_annual_meeting/0227frans-de-waal.shtml
- Harmon, Katherine. "Love for life? 12 animals that are (mostly) monogamous." Scientific American. Feb. 14, 2012. (Oct. 25, 2012) http://www.scientificamerican.com/slideshow.cfm?id=love-for-life-animals-mostly-monogamous
- Lorenzi, Rossella. "Elephants mourn their dead." Animal Planet. Nov. 4, 2005. (Oct. 26, 2012_ http://animal.discovery.com/news/briefs/20051031/elephant.html
- Mazur, James E. "Procrastination by pigeons with fixed-interval response requirements." Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior. March 1998. (Oct. 25, 2012) http://seab.envmed.rochester.edu/jeab/articles/1998/jeab-69-02-0185.pdf
- Mooallem, Jon. "Can animals be gay?" The New York Times Magazine. March 31, 2010. (Oct. 25, 2012) http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/04/magazine/04animals-t.html?_r=0
- Onion, Amanda. "Tickled rats laugh: DNews nugget." Discovery News. June 22, 2012. (Oct. 25, 2012) http://news.discovery.com/animals/tickled-rats-laugh-dnews-nuggets-120622.html
- Pappas, Stephanie. "Hitchcockian crows spread the word about unkind humans." LiveScience.com. June 28, 2011. (Nov. 1, 2012) http://www.livescience.com/14819-crows-learn-dangerous-faces.html
- Sacks, Amy. "A lesson for humans: Bonobos, ape cousins of chimpanzees, have sex instead of fighting." The New York Daily News. June 5, 2010. (Oct. 25, 2012) http://articles.nydailynews.com/2010-06-05/entertainment/27066264_1_bonobos-chimpanzees-brian-hare
- Santa Maria, Cara. "Animals laugh, research suggests, but do they have a sense of humor?" HuffingtonPost.com. Sept. 24, 2012. (Oct. 25, 2012) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/24/animals-laugh-_n_1900493.html
- Than, Ker. "Gorilla youngsters seen dismantling poachers' traps -- a first." National Geographic. July 19, 2012. (Oct. 25, 2012) http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2012/07/120719-young-gorillas-juvenile-traps-snares-rwanda-science-fossey/
- Weintraub, Pamela. "Jaak Panksepp pinned down humanity's 7 primal emotions." Discover Magazine. May 2012. (Oct. 25, 2012) http://discovermagazine.com/2012/may/11-jaak-panksepp-rat-tickler-found-humans-7-primal-emotions
- Zimmer, Carl. "Are we the teachable species?" Discover Magazine. Nov. 22, 2011. (Oct. 25, 2012) http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/loom/2011/11/22/are-we-the-teachable-species/
- Zimmer, Carl. "Children learn by monkey see, monkey do. Chimps don't." The New York Times. Dec. 13, 2005. (Oct. 25, 2012) http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/13/science/13essa.html?_r=0
Miraculously many animals are able to ride out some of Mother Nature's most powerful storms. HowStuffWorks looks at just how they do it.