January 23, 2011

Some we love, some we hate, some we eat by Hal Herzog

Some we love, some we hate, some we eat by Hal Herzog
Why it’s so hard to think straight about animals

[Book is looking into all aspects of the human-animal relations, provides reasonable reasons; though did not provide any scientific evidence for such relationships; it is more complicated topic.]

Do people really look like their dogs? The researchers came up with two possible reasons why people might look like their dogs - convergence and selection. The convergence theory is that owner and pet acutely grow to look more alike over the years. On the surface, the idea seems nutty. However there is evidence that couples who have been married for a long time, do in fact converge in the way their faces look. Plus, obese people tend to have overweight dogs. The selection theory in contrast holds that we unconsciously seek animals that look like us when picking a pet.

Do dog people and cat people have different personalities? Psychologists have been arguing about the nature of human personality for a hundred years. One issue they fight about is how many personality traits there are. While there are few holdouts, most psychologists agree that we can get a good description of a person’s personality by measuring five basic traits (technically it is referred as five factor model). They are

Openness versus close to experience
Conscientiousness versus impulsiveness
Extroversion vs. Introversion
Agreeableness vs. Antagonism
Neuroticism vs. Emotional Stability.

A small survey (2099 dog people & 527 cat people) reveals the following
Dog people are more extroverted, agreeable, conscientious
Cat people are more neurotic, more open to new experiences.

Why so many Americans afraid of snake? After all, you are more likely to be killed by a dog than a snake. Is ophidophobia a relic of Bronze age myths featuring serpents, naked women and apples? Scientists have been arguing for 200 hundred years about the relative importance of nature and nurture in development of snake fears. Susan Mineka argues that in monkey, fear of snake is learned. She found that Rheus monkeys captured in the wild were terrified of snakes but that monkeys born in captivity showed no fear of them. However many of the animals were absolutely terrified of the snakes even though they had never seen one before. Nature plays a role in snake fears. Some part of the world (Africa,) they are not afraid of snakes. The idea that both genes and environment influence our attitudes towards animals,

Is pet love in our genes?

On the question of ‘why pets’ anthrozoologists have offered a wide variety of explanations for the human-animal bond.

Pet teach kindness and responsibility to children
Pet provide ‘ontological security’ in postmodern age in which traditional values and social networks have broken down
Like ornamental gardens, pets are expression of the human need to dominate nature
Pets allow the middle class to pretend they are rich
Pets substitute for human friends.
Pets and people are autonomous beings who gain mutual comfort and enjoyment from their interactions

The human being is the only animal that keeps members of other species for extended periods of time purely for enjoyment.

Why is the list of animals so long, yet by comparison, the number of creatures whose flesh we regularly eat so short (mostly beef, pork, chicken and lamp). One reason is availability. Personal experience also comes into play. Like rats, humans have evolved a special ability to associate the taste of food with nausea and vomiting. The most important influence on whether we find a food delicious or disgusting is culture. Chinese and Koreans eat dogs, but not the rest of the world. In classical Hinduism, dogs were the outcasts of the animal world. They were despised because they were said to have sex with their own family members, and eat vomit, feces and corpses. Most interpretation of Islamic law also regard dogs as unclean. Americans and Europeans don’t consume dog flesh because they are considered as family members and hence eating them is tantamount to cannibalism.

With the new science of anthrozoology reveals is that our attitudes, behaviors and relationships with the animals in our lives - the ones we love, ones we hate, and the one we eat - are, likewise more complicated than we thought.

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