The Psychology of Animals
Contrary to what most people think, animals do manifest interesting psychological traits. Considering available data and the fact that animal psychology is still in its developing phase, it would be premature to provide a blueprint for the animal ‘mind’, although many researchers anime have attempted to do that and there has been some success in the understanding of the animal mind through study of behavior and learning in animals. Of course, behaviorists would consider it absolutely unnecessary to talk of an animal ‘mind’ as according to them, learning and responses in animals could be explained completely with behavioral changes and association of different stimuli. Many psychologists believe animals simply show instinctual responses and their behavior does not have intentionality.
This means that animals simply follow a stimulus response pattern and instinctively show a trial and error behavioral pattern of actions rather than using their conscious mind to behave in a certain way. This is what Konrad Lorenz, a pioneering ethologist considered as ‘fixed action patterns’ or FAPs and it is believed that a few FAPs are caused by certain standard stimuli across the animal kingdom. Obviously if the mind is to the brain as the soul is to the body, the concept of mind itself would be problematic but although we cannot deny the human mind, we can in a way explain animal behavior without referring to the mind directly. How far would this position be appropriate?
In recent years animal mind has become a topic of great interest. Are animals able to think and feel? Are animals intelligent? Can they apply insight to solve certain problems? Anyone with a pet at home will respond positively to these questions. Of course animals seem to understand our moods, they know what exactly is coming after possibly having read our facial/bodily expressions, and in many cases animals are able to solve problems, almost with insight. If a caged bird is able to move out of a cage on pressing a lever will that be considered an insightful or trial and error behavior? Animals are not able to talk in our human language and we do not understand animal language so there is a gap in communication and this may be a primary reason for which we are incapable of knowing whether animals have ’emotional experiences’ and use insight to solve problems or whether everything to them is nothing but trail and error.
The problem with us humans is that we judge other animals with our only tool – language. We talk about emotions, insight and feelings in a particular way and it is impossible to gauge animal mind unless we also understand animal language and although we understand some animal gestures, we cannot probe deep into the mind of other species. But just because we are limited in our knowledge and understanding of animals, it will be too dismissive and unwise to consider that animals only use trial and error methods to respond to the world. It is of course largely accepted across biology and psychology that in Darwinian terms, the human brain being the most evolved is capable of more complex emotional patterns, insights, expectations etc than the lower animals and the more evolved brain would also naturally imply a higher ability for complex mental functions. Other animals are only capable of mental functions that require lesser brain capabilities.
Contrary to what most people think, animals do manifest interesting psychological traits. Considering available data and the fact that animal psychology is still in its developing phase, it would be premature to provide a blueprint for the animal ‘mind’, although many researchers anime have attempted to do that and there has been some success in…