Dog studies show self-control may negatively affect test scores

By Fink Densford

Dogs may have something to tell UK students about how to do better on tests.

Holly Miller, a psychology graduate student, is studying how exerting self-control in dogs may have a negative impact on other activities, such as test taking.

Kristina Pattison, another graduate student working on the study, said dogs and humans most likely use glucose storage in their brains while exhibiting self-control, which lowers their ability to persist and perform on activities and tests.

“If you go on a diet and you are self-regulating what you eat, you may find that you don’t have the mental resources necessary to do your best on tests in school,” Miller said.

Miller said this research may prove that behaviors adopted during stressful times like exams cause a person to perform poorly.

“I’m not suggesting that people avoid dieting, but I am suggesting that people do not start extreme diets in the middle of finals week,” she said.

Miller is part of psychology professor Thomas Zentall’s comparative cognition lab in the Department of Psychology.

The lab has been running for over a decade, studying how animals think to better understand how people think.

The lab primarily researches with pigeons, Miller said, though it has researched chimpanzees, horses, rats and humans in the past. The lab has been focusing on dogs for research for three years.

“Dogs are often good models for human behavior and development,” Miller said.

Zentall, director of the lab, said by studying how animals act and behave and finding similarities to humans, researchers are able to understand the basics behind what causes these behaviors.

“If you’re looking at something that appears complex, if you can simplify it, you can get a better understanding of the process,” Zentall said. “Humans come to tests expecting certain things. Animals have no experience, so it simplifies the tests.”

Miller and Pattison are next planning an experiment to study how glucose and self-control affect dogs’ and humans’ memories.