Apparently there is nothing more offensive to the pet-loving masses than suggesting that pets might not love everything we do. Stanley Coren, a psychologist who has been very active in studying the human-animal bond, recently presented his observations that when analyzing randomly selected photos of humans hugging their dogs, over 80% of the dogs appeared to be exhibiting behavioral signs of stress (to be clear, some dogs seemed perfectly happy with the hugs, just not too many of them). Now, this was not a peer-reviewed study, but let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater just yet. ...continue reading
Exploring empathy in animals
A nice little review of new study about voles exhibiting empathic behaviors toward one another. It features a squirrel studying alum from my lab, Stephanie Preston! I would add that some of the willingness to look at empathic behaviors in other animals is not neccessarily due to a shift away from abhorring anthropomorphism, but a shift away from anthropocentrism!
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!
I wrote about it for the Berkeley Science Review!
Anthropomorphism impedes our understanding of animal behavior
This fascinating study had 4 and 5 year old children read one of two versions of a story about animals - one with anthropomorphism, and one that used factual language. Results suggested that children who read the story where animals were depicted with human-like traits were more likely to assign human psychological, but not physical, traits to animals later. The Thoughtful Animal at Scientific American tells us more about it here.