Annual meeting of The Belgian Association for Psychological Sciences (BAPS) location:Antwerp, Belgium date:24 May 2016
Self-control can be defined as the ability to inhibit prepotent, but ultimately counterproductive behavior. It is essential for adaptive functioning in both humans and dogs. Previous research has found dogs to perform worse on a task after previously having to exert a sufficient amount of self-control (Miller et al., 2010). The resource hypothesis explains this effect by stating that self-control is regulated by a limited amount of energy. More recent theories, however, are focusing on motivational aspects. We expect that dopamine might play a role in how motivation affects self-control. Therefore, we investigate whether we can restore performance by inducing positive affect, which should raise tonic dopamine levels, after an initial self-control task. The current study tested dogs' persistence on an unsolvable task after an initial inhibition task or a control task. The inhibition task consisted of an out of sight sit-and-stay exercise for 10 minutes. During the control task the dogs were caged for the same duration. In this phase, the dogs’ cardiac activity, and in particular their heart-rate variability, was measured. Then, a positive vs. neutral emotion was induced and the dog’s persistence on an unsolvable puzzle task was measured. Based on previous literature, we expected the dogs to persist less after the inhibition task, compared to the control task. Additionally, in line with the theory that a positive emotion will increase dopamine levels, which in turn might increase motivation, we expected persistence to increase in this condition.