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December 16, 2014: Book Review: (Part 1) Animals Make us Human, Temple Grandin

I’d actually read all Grandin’s other books, the lone exception being this one. I just continued to put off reading it. I think the title got me to thinking that it was most likely overly simplistic. I decided to inter-library loan it rather than purchase it because I didn’t want to commit to owning it. All I needed was information for Lessons Twice Learned.

I try to read books in their entirety rather than piecemeal. I don’t always do this; rather, this is something that I strive to do. I set said book aside, and tell myself I’ll get back to it. The truth be known, I usually don’t. I will, when our cabin gets buried in an avalanche and I’m stuck inside for a year. In a way, I sort of am looking forward to this. The

Raudi and Alys at play

outside world is this book reader’s distraction.

I did read Animals Make Us Human in its entirety. It’s a great book, perhaps the best that Grandin has yet written. Her writing style, which is in part very informal, makes the work very accessible. She uses phrases like “oh crap,” and “by gosh” more than once. And statements such a “when an animal’s biological system is pushed to the point where the physiology is totally pathological, I get disgusted.” This got me to thinking that while those who are autistic are said to be unemotional, that they feel very passionate about the things that are most important to them.

Grandin defines key terms in the very beginning of her book, and throughout she refers back to them. She contends that all animals have core emotions -- this serves to reiterate her central argument, which is that animal welfare programs should be based on this premise. In other words, treating animals kindly and in a humane fashion will result in fewer behavior problems. She says “my theory is that the environment the animals live in should activate the positive emotions as much as possible, and not activate their negative emotions any more than necessary.” She adds “emotions come first . . . you have to go back to the brain in order to understand animal behavior.”

Grandin goes on to say that animals and people have the same core emotions in the brain. She is, in saying this, advancing the claims of Dr. Jaak Panksepp, who calls the core emotions that “blue ribbon emotions” because they “generate well organized behavior sequences that can be evoked by localized electrical stimuli of the brain.”

According to Panksepp, there are four blue ribbon emotions. These are:

1) SEEKING – defined, is “the basic impulse to search, investigate, and make sense of the environment.” Panksepp adds that SEEKING could a “generalized platform for the expression of many of the basic emotional response – it is the one system that helps animals anticipate all types of rewards.

2) RAGE – defined, “gives a captive animal the explosive energy it needs to struggle violently and maybe shocking the animal into loosening its grip. Panksepp believes that this emotion evolved from the experience of being captured and held immobile by predators.

3) FEAR – defined, is what’s felt when an animal’s survival is threatened in a way, meaning mental, physical, or social. There is no fear if the amygdala is destroyed.

4) PANIC – defined, evolved from physical fear. This is the word used to describe the social attachment system. In other words, this is what baby animals feel when their mother is killed or taken away from them.

Grandin writes that Dr. Panksepp has also identified three other positive emotional systems that researchers aren’t as familiar with, and that don’t always run through an animal’s entire life. He calls these three emotions “more sophisticated special purpose socioemotional systems that are engaged at appropriate times in the lives of all mammals.” These are lust, meaning sexual desire, care, meaning maternal love and caretaking; and play.” This, Grandin speculates, may be a sign of good welfare, for an animal that’s depressed, frightened, or angry, doesn’t play.

At the end of this chapter, Grandin speaks directly to her audience, which is all who are responsible for animals, farmers, ranchers, zoo-keepers, and pet owners, and says what she then reiterates throughout her book – which is “don’t stimulate RAGE, FEAR, and PANIC if you can help it, and do stimulate SEEKING and also play. She then goes on an provides examples of how people in tending to animals have in this respect, erred, and very importantly, presents more appropriate types of animal care techniques.

If I was to again teach an animal behavior class, this book would be at the top of my list.

Next: 336. 12/17/14: Agility and Horses