Friday, April 25, 2014

Animal (and Human) Behavior

The community that I'm currently trying to help create is a farming community.  The problem is, I'm not a farmer.  The organizers of the community have been trying to figure out what useful things I can do. One of the things they came up with was animal care.

Two reasons they may want me doing animal care are 1) it suits my personality--I like simple, repetitive, regular tasks, and 2) I think they like the irony of the vegetarian in the bunch doing the animal care.  (Especially since many of these animals may end up as meat.)

I realize that if I'm going to be taking care of animals, I wanted to start by reading about how to do it.  While I've now read a bunch of different things, I especially decided to read Temple Grandin.  Temple Grandin is famous for two things and one of them is animal care.  (The other is that she is autistic--and she usually relates her autism to the way that animals think and react.)

I've read two books by her now, Animals Make Us Human and Animals in Translation.  She bases a lot of her writing and thinking about animal emotions on the work of Dr. Jaak Panksepp at Washington State University.  According to her, he breaks the basic animal emotions down to seven: SEEKING, RAGE, FEAR, PANIC, LUST, CARE, and PLAY. (He always prints these 'core emotions' in capital letters.)

SEEKING is about anticipations, curiousity, and reacting to novelty.  It is generally pleasurable.  RAGE, FEAR, and LUST are pretty easy to figure out.  PANIC is about suddenly being alone, like a baby separated from its mother.  CARE is about "maternal love and caretaking."  And PLAY is about the emotions that motivate animals playing with one another.

She talks about ways to get animals to approach new objects.  If you try to force them to encounter it, this stimulates their FEAR system and they will pull as hard as they can to get away.  If you simply leave the object there and let the animal deal with it, their SEEKING system gets turned on and they want to explore it.

I was a psychology major in college and I'm always interested in understanding how people behave and what motivates them.  (And, of course, if you're interested in social change, these are key questions.)  As I'm reading all this stuff about animal behavior,  I'm looking at how it applies to people. (Like if you want people to change, do you want to force them to look at stuff?  If it's rough stuff and you force them to confront it, I think you're going to mainly scare them.  Or do you want to put it out there where people can take their time and look at, and let their curiousity pull them into it?)

Reading this stuff makes me realize I have two goals.  I want to treat any animals in my care well.  And I want to treat any people in my care well.  Or maybe it's the same goal.

Quote of the Day:  "All animals and people have the same core emotion systems in the brain. ...
"People and animals (and possibly birds) are born with these emotions...
"Everyone who is responsible for animals ... needs a set of simple reliable guidelines for creating good mental welfare that can be applied to any animal in any situation and the best guidelines we have are the core emotion systems in the brain. The rule is simple: don't stimulate RAGE, FEAR, AND PANIC if you can help it and do stimulate SEEKING and PLAY." - Temple Grandin