Strong-Willed Chimps Reveal Evolutionary Origins of Human Willpower

A team of psychologists led by Georgia State University psychologist Michael Beran show that chimps’ ability to exercise restraint is linked to their general intelligence, just like it is in humans. Though previous experiments had shown that chimpanzees could sometimes exert self-control and delay gratification, their ability to do so was attributed to environmental factors. Now, the link between self-control and intelligence suggests that willpower played an important role in chimpanzee — and human — evolution. “From this, we have argued that delay of gratification, as part of a broader capacity for behavioral inhibition, reflects a form of controlled cognition,” Beran told Inverse in an email. “This is in line with how we tend to think of self-control in humans.”

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