Imagine you bought a brand-new puppy yesterday, left it in the house alone while you went to work today, and then found a big pile of poop on your living room floor when you got home.
What do you do?
Most people will scold the puppy and punish it somehow.
But neuroscience says that that probably won’t do any good. As gross as it sounds, you might want to stick your finger in the poop and see how warm it is. Because a dog owner who understands neuroscience would actually discipline the dog differently depending on the temperature of the poop.
Warm poop means the incident happened fairly recently. Punishment might be a viable option in this case.
But if the poop is cold, then it probably doesn’t do any good to punish your puppy because this means he likely pooped on the floor hours ago.
If you punish the puppy when the poop is cold, he won’t understand why he’s being punished!
At its core, all learning involves neural connections. When you learn new things, your brain is building, strengthening, or weakening the links between various constellations of brain cells.
As a dog owner, you want to create links between pooping neurons and getting punished neurons in your dog’s brain, so your dog learns that pooping on the floor is not good.
But the farther apart two things (like poop and punishment) get in time and space, the more difficult it becomes for your brain to connect them. When you punish your dog six hours later, the pooping neurons and the getting punished neurons don’t link together very efficiently.