Badger Friday – Part Five

Whoops. The eagle eyed viewer might have noticed we didn’t have a Fluffy Friday last week, but now you can finally find out what happens to Fluffy and her babies:

 

 

And we’ve also got a Jeanne Marchig International Centre for Animal Welfare Education YouTube channel now! (Incidentally, saying the name of the channel might be my new test of sobriety). So you can watch all our VLogs in one place. If you haven’t signed up for the MOOC you totally should because we are ready to go on the 14th July!

 

 

Elephants Who Marry Mice

Don’t you just hate when you’re forced to face up to the fact you’re not as virtuous as you think you are?

One of the courses I’m currently writing for the International Fund for Animal Welfare came back to me with some corrections. My reviewer had changed the following sentence, the change in capitals.

“Dogs WHO showed pessimistic behaviours were more depressed.”

And try as I might, my gaze kept tripping over that word. Dogs Who, Dogs Who, Dogs Who.

Let us momentarily leap backwards in time to our English classes. My education contained very little formal grammar training, which may be obvious to the casual reader, but even I know that personal pronouns (e.g. who, he, she, they) are reserved for people. Animal are referred to as objects (e.g. which, it, that).

“The dog which barked” is preferable to “The dog who barked”.

“It is lying in the cat basket” may be preferable to “she is lying in the cat basket”.

This can lead to the English language treating animals very strangely. For example, say you visit a new acquaintance. You know this acquaintance has two cats, Gin and Tonic (this friend might be a bit odd), but you see one cat on the windowsill. You want to know, is that cat Gin or is that cat Tonic? You may ask “What cat is that?” or “Which cat is that?” seeing as you know it is one of two. It would be wrong to say “Who is that?”

Is it problematic to refer to animals as objects? Well first we have to ask if grammar affects the way we think. (And before we go any further I want to tell you that journals on grammar and semantics are almost as impenetrable as journals on molecular genetics)

Boroditsky (2009) investigated the differences in how speakers of English and Mandarin thought about time. In English we speak of time as a horizontal construct (you look ahead to the good times and back on the bad times) whereas in Mandarin time is spoken of in a vertical manner (the paper gives the translated example “what is the year before the year of the tiger?”).

The experiment itself is a bit odd to get your head around, but first they primed English and Mandarin speakers with either vertical or horizontal concepts (i.e. the black worm is ahead of the white worm, the black ball is below the white ball) and then given ‘target’ statements about time ‘March is earlier than April’, ‘March is before April’.

English speakers answered these questions faster after hearing a horizontal prime (similar to how they think of time) and Mandarin speakers answered these questions faster after they had heard a vertical prime (similar to how they think of time). Boroditsky concludes that the way we speak frames the way we perceive the world.

But does this happen in animal welfare? Well I’m not the only one who wondered about this. Gilquin & Jacobs (2006) wrote a paper which is whimsically titled ‘Elephants Who Marry Mice’. They reviewed style standards in various publication manuals. For example, the Guardian’s, which you can find here, says:

animals

pronoun “it” unless gender established

 

The Guardian also says:

any more

Please do not say “anymore” any more

 

So I don’t dream of writing a Comment Is Free column anymore.

Unsurprisingly, Gilquin and Jacobs found that it was the familiar animals (horses, dogs, cats, etc.) which scored a ‘who’ more often than the non familiar animals. Furthermore, publications aimed at animal-related interest groups were more likely to use ‘who’, e.g. Dogs Today.

They noted that in general texts or interviews, the personal pronoun was used when the author wanted to garner sympathy for the animal in question. It is “the poor cat who was stuck in a tree” rather than “the cat which was stuck in the tree”.

More interestingly, given some of my other posts on anthropomorphism, 60% of the sentences they found which used the personal pronoun for the animals attributed human-like characteristics to the animals.

Gilquin and Jacobs conclude that ‘who’ is used in English to refer to animals, although inconsistently. They suggest a wider adoption of this grammatical structure might engender more empathy for animals from humans, something which I think reflects what Ganea et al found in their work.

Should animal welfare scientists be calling for the personal pronoun usage?

I really can’t decide. I’m not convinced that it will completely change the way we think about animals. But it’s a nudge you might want to be aware of if you’re talking animal welfare science.

 

And for what it’s worth, I changed the text on the course.

Badger Friday! Shelter Part Two

I have a host of goodies for you this Fluffy Friday Badger Friday.

We have another Behind the Scenes blog post in our MOOC – remember to sign up for free here!

The Animal Welfare Hub has a new app for assessing horse grimaces and assessing pain in horses – join the Animal Welfare Hub here.

And there’s another Shelter episode. See you next week!

 

Fluffy Friday – behind the scenes

The marking and MOOC preparations continue this week.

On my morning run I came up with (what I think) is a great idea for one of our MOOC’s interactive sessions. Check out the preview below as I started working out the technicalities in my head. Spoilers? I guess? If you can understand them? Remember to check out our Massive Open Online Course in Animal Behaviour and Welfare which will start in the first week of July. Sign up! It’s free!

Plans Ahoy

 

 

 

And if that hasn’t whetted your appetite enough – check out the Jeanne Marchig Centre blog where you will find a particularly embarrassing video of yours truly capturing some of the behind the scenes action.

 

And to give you a sneak preview of what’s coming up on Fluffy Sciences next week  .  .  .

Fluffy Friday – Intermission

Hi all – it’s been a crazy week with lots of filming for our upcoming MOOC as well as thirty undergraduate essays to mark! Eek! So today’s Fluffy Friday is a little bit of a repost of a few resources we’ve been working on over the last few months:

What is Animal Pain?

How is Pain Produced?

How is Animal Pain Assessed?

Attitudes to Animal Pain.

How is Animal Pain Treated?

 

 

And finally check out this blog post from IFAW after their visit to the University of Edinburgh vet school. They’re very excited about our MOOC and rightly so!

Professor Waran and Fanta get ready to tell you all about animal welfare.
Professor Waran and Fanta get ready to tell you all about animal welfare.

The Anthropomorphism High Horse

I rarely read a piece of scientific journalism and think “what absolute tosh”, in part because I tend not to use the word ‘tosh’ and in part because I know that science journalism involves digesting and reconfirming a complex idea. It’s not easy.

But this article had me gnashing my teeth. It’s a summary of a paper by Ganea et al 2014 [in press pdf download – only link I can find]. The essence of the paper is this: children which grow up in urban environments (in this case pre-school age children from Boston and Toronto) are not exposed to animals. When they’re given anthropomorphic stories about unfamiliar animals (cavys, handfish and oxpeckers) they will agree with statements that attribute complex emotions to those animals, but not statements which attribute human physical capabilities, e.g. talking, to the animals. The conclusion is that anthropomorphic animal stories inhibit a child’s ability to learn animal facts.

The science I think is interesting – it is the conclusion and the bandying about of the word ‘anthropomorphism’ that get my goat. Let rant at you.

The article’s author says:

Setting aside the shades of grey as to whether non-human animals have analogues for things like friends, the findings suggest that for young kids, “exposure to anthropomorphized language may encourage them to attribute more human-like characteristics to other animals than exposure to factual language.”

 

 

This anthropomorphism spectre infuriates me at times. Let me put it this way, one of the questions asked of the children was “do oxpeckers have friends?” I’m asked relatively frequently if cows have friends, and if I want to answer that question accurately, I have to dance around terminology and use baffling scientific language to answer it in a way that means ‘yes but I can’t really say that because I’m a scientist’.

Cows have preferential associations within their herd. Being with these other individuals makes them more capable of physiologically coping with stressful events (Boissy & Le Neindre, 1997) such as being reintroduced to the milking herd (Neisen et al, 2009), being milked (Hasegawa et al, 1997), or feed competition (Patison et al, 2010a). They will preferentially engage in social interactions with these preferred associations, and these associations go on for longer than with other animals (Faerevik et al 2005, Patison et al, 2010b).

How do you explain this to a 2-5 year old child from Boston without using the word ‘friend’ or any synonym of it? Is it any wonder a child might reasonably assume that animals can have friends? Is it wrong to say that an animal can have a friend?

My irritation here lies with the writer of the article saying children believed ‘falsehoods’ about animals, based on anthropomorphism. We get one link, to a website I can’t access being based in the UK, to research which might suggest animals are similar to us in some ways. Then we move on to a paper I’ve referenced before talking about how dogs’ guilty looks are based on our behaviour (Hecht et al, 2012). The underlying assumption is still that animals are so different from us that children are wrong to believe that animals have the capacity for friendship and caring.

Now I’m fascinated by dogs for precisely this reason. They are so excellent at communicating with us, and reading us, that they are almost in-animal as much as they are in-human. They’re a possible model for human-child behaviour they’re so adept at this. I wouldn’t necessarily use dogs as an example for how the rest of the animal kingdom thinks if I was very worried about making cross species comparisons.

Anthropomorphism is either the attribution of human characteristics to animals. In which case it cannot be used pejoratively. For example, to say “This cow has eyes” would be anthropomorphic.

Or anthropomorphism is the inappropriate attribution of human characteristics to animals, in which case you must carefully consider why the characteristic is inappropriate when given to animals. It is not anthropomorphic in this case to say “This cow feels fear”, because fear, as we understand it, is an evolutionary mechanism to increase your chances of survival, it has physiological and behavioural components and the cow meets all of these. Ergo, this cow feels fear, and that is not an inappropriate characteristic.

Much as I lament the fact urban children have very little contact with the natural world, and I think this is a major issue for animal welfare, food sustainability, and the mental health of the children, I don’t fully agree with the paper’s conclusions, or the writing up in the Scientific American blog.

Firstly, the study found that all children learned new facts regardless of whether they read the anthropomorphic story or the non-anthropomorphic story. The results appear to indicate to me there was less fact-retention in the anthropromorphic story (and while I’m not a psychologist, I have worked with children and I do now work in education, I wonder if the anthropomorphic story, being similar to entertainment, indicated ‘you do not need to pay attention here’ to the kids. This does not appear to be discussed in the paper.).

Secondly, the study found that the children who had anthropoorphic stories told to them were more likely to describe animals in anthropomorphic terms immediately afterwards. Now again I’m no psychologist, but after I went to see Captain America I was partially convinced I was a superhero. It faded after the walk home. I’d like to know more about the extent of this effect over time before I declared anthropomorphic stories as damaging to children’s learning.

Thirdly, the Scientific American article presents some ‘realistic’ and ‘anthropomorphised’ images of the animals side by side. This is not what happened in the paper. In the first experiment the children were shown ‘realistic images and factual language books’ or ‘realistic images and anthropomoprhic language books’. The second study used ‘anthropomorphic images and factual language’ and ‘anthropomorphic images and anthropomorphic language’. The upshot of this is that the realistic image condition was not directly compared to the anthropormphic image condition, regardless of how it seems when you read the Scientific American article.

The paper says at one point:

This reveals that, like adults, young children seem to have a less clear conception of differences between humans and other animals in regard to mental characteristics, as opposed to behaviors. However, exposure to anthropomorphized language may encourage them to attribute more human-like characteristics to other animals than exposure to factual language.

 

 

Well there’s little wonder about that because even we scientists don’t have a particularly clear conception of the mental differences between humans and other animals. The paper itself is interesting and well worth a read, but it falls into the trap of thinking about anthropomorphism as a wholly negative thing. If I was a reviewer I’d suggest Serpell (2002) as an excellent starting point for a more balanced view of the phenomenon.

And I’d also suggest they watch this video before assuming that kids are daft for thinking animals feel emotions.

 

FluffyFriday – WolfQuest Part Four!

Oh Fluffy – it’s been such an epic quest, I am almost sad to see it at an end. Warning, some images may be distressing for anyone who got overly attached to Fluffy and her little family.

 

So overall, what are my final impressions of the WolfQuest game?

  • The game represents a large block of ‘learning time’. My final save-game was over two hours long, which is a decent amount of investment from the player.
  • There are lots of little touches. In Episode Three you’ll spot some lovely play behaviour from the pups.
  • The game was pretty difficult in places, not just because I’m a poor gamer, but the balancing of demands like time, food, chasing away predators was quite nicely nuanced in my opinion.
  • While it’s great for an educational game, the production values are a problem. It was very frustrating at times constantly having to correct Fluffy’s trajectories.

But overall I really recommend it for kids who are interested in wolves or animal behaviour. The interactivity, the role play and the community over on WolfQuest.org are all plus points in the game’s favour. It’s a great example of animal behaviour learning, so it gets the Fluffy Sciences stamp of approval . . . which I’ve just now invented.

FluffyFriday – WolfQuest Part Three!

FluffyFriday returns! And this time I have actually queued up a few posts so hopefully FluffyFriday will become a regular occurrence.

Today I present you the third act in the epic saga of Fluffy and Diet Coke. It’s a nailbiting tale (tail?) of bears, eagles and glitched games. Part Four will conclude the story next week.

 

On our last Fluffy Friday I said I wanted your animal welfare questions for a possible Q&A vid with one my colleagues. I’m still looking for questions! Ask us anything, guys! I have one colleague who has almost agreed to show her face on YouTube with me so this is your chance! Anything you want to know about animal welfare, we’ll be happy to discuss it.

So until next week – have a good one.

Learning About Pain in Animals

Today the AWIN project released five online learning objects on their Animal Welfare Hub. I have to confess an ulterior motive to sharing these: I had a hand in creating them.

The Animal Welfare Hub requires registration, but it’s free and once registered you can find animal welfare courses online, download learning objects, and share your own events, courses and materials. It’s designed to be your one stop shop for animal welfare resources.

The learning objects I’m sharing today are about animal pain. They’re aimed at vet nurse students, vet students, and as some refresher training for vets and vet nurses, but the beautiful thing about learning objects is that anyone can access them. You can take them at your own pace. You don’t need to read all the information present, and can direct your own learning.

By having these learning objects online we can also reach a global audience. Supplying the 7 billion with animal products (everything from meat, eggs, dairy, leather, etc.) results in a huge demand for animals. It’s more important than ever to share animal welfare knowledge between countries so we can learn from one another.

Anyway – first you have to make an account on the Animal Welfare Hub and then you can follow the direct links below to check out the learning objects. They can be downloaded and used for education, so long as you say where you got them from. Hopefully you’ll find them useful, and let us know any feedback you have.

1. What is animal pain?

2. How is pain produced?

3. How is pain assessed?

4. How is pain treated?

5. Attitudes to animal pain.