KQED came and filmed my research subjects a few months ago for a feature article as part of their Deep Look series, in which we (sort of) recreated my study of fox squirrels' responses to frustration. The final video and article are posted and just waiting for you to watch!
I have really fallen behind on my squirrel news reporting responsibilities, and there has been SO MUCH squirrel news, that this week will require two posts to catch up. Today, a lot of power outages, squirrels and food, and squirrels in schools and squirrel rescue. Stay tuned for Part II, which will feature A LOT of squirrels and crime, squirrels and sports, this week in cute, and MUCH MORE!
Annoying squirrels for science
I'm very excited that my research examining fox squirrels' responses to a frustrating task has finally been published. This was my first study in graduate school, and although my research questions have changed a lot since then, I had a lot of fun with this one! I spoke with Rachel Gross at Slate about my study, you can read all about it here!
Highlighting Misleading Headlines
Humans seem want to know two things about their pets: WHAT ARE THEY THINKING? and DOES (S)HE UNDERSTAND ME? This desperation leads to endless click-bait about what exactly is going on in our fuzzy friends' minds.
What is my cat thinking?
A new device (that has no peer-reviewed testing that I can find) - basically a fancy collar that measures activity - claims to tell you if your cat is playful (OK, that I believe), or happy or annoyed. The collar will measure heart rate and temperature (how accurately?), but consumers should know that we have no accepted measures of "happiness" or "annoyance" in pets. I feel pretty confident in saying this collar cannot tell you what your cat is thinking. BUYER BEWARE!
The cuteness may not last long, thanks to climate change
Everyone on the internet is agog over the adorable ila pika, an endangered small mammal that is part of the taxonomic order Lagomorpha (rabbits are also Lagomorphs). The ila pika is undeniably cute and undeniably in trouble. Due to climate change, these little guys are moving higher and higher to find snow. This is the first photograph of an ila pika in 20 years.
Do dogs feel jealousy?
Most scientists agree that non-human animals feel the "basic" emotions - fear, anger, happiness, surprise - or at least the animal-equivalents. Behavioral and neurological studies support that animals have, to some degree, similar emotional experiences as we do.
When it comes to more complex emotions, such as guilt, embarrassment, and sympathy, we have much less empirical support. These emotional states may require some form of theory of mind or a level of self-consciousness that we aren't sure that animals have.
The new dog-jealousy study has gotten a lot of hype and press, and now everyone thinks dogs can feel jealous. Other studies have shown that anthropomorphism may play a huge role in how we interpret the "guilty look" in dogs. I think it's a bit strange that the human researchers find the evidence more compelling than the animal cognition experts and it would have been nice if they had included a dog-cog expert on their team.
Dog owners petted a stuffed dog (or read a book or paid attention to a jack o'lantern), and the behavior of their pet dog was measured. Dogs were more likely to bark or push on the owner or investigate the object when it was a stuffed dog. I think what we can all agree on - dogs attempt to get their owner's attention when it is directed elsewhere - attention is of course a resource that is important to many pets. You can read the study here - yay open access!
Why isn't composting the norm?
I am lucky to live somewhere where we can put all of our food scraps in a compost bin and not into landfill. I'm very excited to see that NYC is following suit! I think some psychological science can be added to get everyone on board!
Camouflage is an amazing thing. This satanic leaf gecko has perfectly evolved to match its habitat - even when that habitat varies.
But what about when that habitat has completely changed? Scientists examine the outlook of the snowshoe hare, an animal that typically changes color as the weather changes to match the presence of snow in the winter...but what happens when there's no snow?