from the world's big
How pets relieve anxiety and anger
We have a growing understanding of how they emotionally impact us.
The road to domestication for a variety of pets, dogs and cats at the top of this list, seems to have been a combination of food and resource sharing, companionship, and reproductive success. While vast differences exist in mammalian behavior, having a reliable place to sleep and regular food unties us.
We gaze in awe and at times terror at their animalistic behaviors, perhaps forgetting who the most destructive animal to have ever inhabited this planet is. At least they seem to have forgiven us, considering they've stuck by our side for millennia.
While reasons for domestication are open for debate, Abigail Tucker argues that cats, for one, appear to have cultivated a temperament acceptable to humans on their own accord. One necessary quality, she writes, is that the animals we keep around need to stay calm. While felines can appear to be anything but — our Maine Coon runs laps after a trip to the litter box, his way of confusing predators that might be tracking his scent — house cats remain within acceptable boundaries. Barely, at times, but still.
A mixture of chill and confidence draws us to them. Tucker continues,
What we call 'friendliness' in our pet cats is, in part, a lack of aggression. But it is also a lack of fear, and an inborn boldness.
It is also, she writes, a “whittled-down fight-or-flight response." Domesticated animals are better able to deal with their emotions than their feral counterparts. Their limbic system is more regulated, and it seems this quality is affecting their human friends.
The NY Times reports service dogs are helping veterans cope with reintegration into society after their tours. Iraq war veteran Benjamin Stepp was matched with a retriever mix named Arleigh who can tell when his master is tightening up.
The dog senses when his agitation and anxiety begin rising, and sends him signals to begin the controlled breathing and other exercises that help to calm him down.
The field of emotional contagions is growing as researchers better understand animal cognition, as well as our own. Subconscious signaling is an important marker for survival in the wild, which in part rely on a recognition of behavioral patterns.
Memories, for example, are processed in the hippocampus, but type of memory matters. Procedural tasks, like tying your shoelaces, is stored in your basal ganglia, while emotional memories, like the trauma veterans face in combat, heads to their amygdala, which is also the region where the fight-flight-freeze response warns your nervous system of impending danger.
There is speculation that memories are an evolutionary adaptation to the art of prediction. In a strange twist of biology our ability to foresee the future might have created a cognitive storehouse of events and tasks during the early formation of our brain. Since we use the same regions for both looking forward and remembering back, it appears that memories were a side effect of speculation.
The problem is our nervous system is not always great at prediction. Past events influence how we both predict the future as well as how we act when it arrives. For people suffering from PTSD every loud sound or questionable facial expression rings an alarm. A similar response occurs in those suffering anxiety disorder — commonplace triggers become overwhelming stimuli.
Emotions do not belong to humans alone. We are visual learners, though much of our environmental awareness comes from more intuitive measures that are not necessarily consciously processed. With training service dogs like Arleigh learn to pay attention to their owner's muscle twitches, pantomimes, and even scents, responding in an emphatic way to cools their impending distress.
Why we've cohabited with certain animals while shunning and destroying others is often a question of tolerance combined with mimicry. Cat's eyes, Tucker writes, are closer together than most mammals, mimicking human expressions. We're more likely to relate to a cat than a pig for this reason. This could play a part in why over six hundred million house cats inhabit the planet.
A deeper level is that pets understand our emotional seesawing. Those who believe cats don't care about the humans they live with have likely never lived with one, or perhaps shared space with one too close to its feral roots. Dogs are more amiable in general, however, making them better suited for therapy. This is in part because dogs are comfortable in any environment so long as people they trust are around, whereas cats are creatures of territory. Remove them from their stalking zone and it takes much longer for them to adapt.
Domesticated animals experience longer, healthier lives than their feral cousins. We exist together for a number of reasons, companionship being near or at the top of the list. That they relieve anxiety is an important reason to share space. Humans have disconnected from nature in many ways, but our relationship with other species is a powerful reminder of the power of cohabitation. If only we treated other humans so well.
Derek's next book, Whole Motion: Training Your Brain and Body For Optimal Health, will be published on 7/17 by Carrel/Skyhorse Publishing. He is based in Los Angeles. Stay in touch on Facebook and Twitter.
Join multiple Tony and Emmy Award-winning actress Judith Light live on Big Think at 2 pm ET on Monday.
From "if-by-whiskey" to the McNamara fallacy, being able to spot logical missteps is an invaluable skill.
- A fallacy is the use of invalid or faulty reasoning in an argument.
- There are two broad types of logical fallacies: formal and informal.
- A formal fallacy describes a flaw in the construction of a deductive argument, while an informal fallacy describes an error in reasoning.
Appeal to privacy<p>When someone behaves in a way that negatively affects (or could affect) others, but then gets upset when others criticize their behavior, they're likely engaging in the appeal to privacy — or "mind your own business" — fallacy. Examples:<br></p><ul><li>Someone who speeds excessively on the highway, considering his driving to be his own business.</li><li>Someone who doesn't see a reason to bathe or wear deodorant, but then boards a packed 10-hour flight.</li></ul><p>Language to watch out for: "You're not the boss of me." "Worry about yourself."</p>
Sunk cost fallacy<p>When someone argues for continuing a course of action despite evidence showing it's a mistake, it's often a sunk cost fallacy. The flawed logic here is something like: "We've already invested so much in this plan, we can't give up now." Examples:<br></p><ul><li>Someone who intentionally overeats at an all-you-can-eat buffet just to get their "money's worth"</li><li>A scientist who won't admit his theory is incorrect because it would be too painful or costly</li></ul><p>Language to watch out for: "We must stay the course." "I've already invested so much...." "We've always done it this way, so we'll keep doing it this way."</p>
If-by-whiskey<p>This fallacy is named after a speech given in 1952 by <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noah_S._Sweat" target="_blank">Noah S. "Soggy" Sweat, Jr.</a>, a state representative for <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mississippi" target="_blank">Mississippi</a>, on the subject of whether the state should legalize alcohol. Sweat's argument on prohibition was (to paraphrase):<br></p><p><em>If, by whiskey, you mean the devil's brew that causes so many problems in society, then I'm against it. But if whiskey means the oil of conversation, the philosopher's wine, "</em><em>the stimulating drink that puts the spring in the old gentleman's step on a frosty, crispy morning;" then I am certainly for it.</em></p>
Slippery slope<p>This fallacy involves arguing against a position because you think choosing it would start a chain reaction of bad things, even though there's little evidence to support your claim. Example:<br></p><ul><li>"We can't allow abortion because then society will lose its general respect for life, and it'll become harder to punish people for committing violent acts like murder."</li><li>"We can't legalize gay marriage. If we do, what's next? Allowing people to marry cats and dogs?" (Some people actually made this <a href="https://www.daytondailynews.com/news/national/cats-marrying-dogs-and-five-other-things-same-sex-marriage-won-mean/dLV9jKqkJOWUFZrSBETWkK/" target="_blank">argument</a> before same-sex marriage was legalized in the U.S.)</li></ul><p>Of course, sometimes decisions <em>do </em>start a chain reaction, which could be bad. The slippery slope device only becomes a fallacy when there's no evidence to suggest that chain reaction would actually occur.</p><p>Language to watch out for: "If we do that, then what's next?"</p>
"There is no alternative"<p><span style="background-color: initial;">A modification of the </span><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_dilemma" target="_blank" style="background-color: initial;">false dilemma</a><span style="background-color: initial;">, this fallacy (often abbreviated to TINA) argues for a specific position because there are no realistic alternatives. Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher used this exact line as a slogan to defend capitalism, and it's still used today to that same end: Sure, capitalism has its problems, but we've seen the horrors that occur when we try anything else, so there is no alternative.</span><br></p><p>Language to watch out for: "If I had a magic wand…" "What <em>else</em> are we going to do?!"</p>
Ad hoc arguments<p>An ad hoc argument isn't really a logical fallacy, but it is a fallacious rhetorical strategy that's common and often hard to spot. It occurs when someone's claim is threatened with counterevidence, so they come up with a rationale to dismiss the counterevidence, hoping to protect their original claim. Ad hoc claims aren't designed to be generalizable. Instead, they're typically invented in the moment. <a href="https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Ad_hoc" target="_blank">RationalWiki</a> provides an example:<br></p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">Alice: "It is clearly said in the Bible that the Ark was 450 feet long, 75 feet wide and 45 feet high."</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">Bob: "A purely wooden vessel of that size could not be constructed; the largest real wooden vessels were Chinese treasure ships which required iron hoops to build their keels. Even the <em>Wyoming</em> which was built in 1909 and had iron braces had problems with her hull flexing and opening up and needed constant mechanical pumping to stop her hold flooding."</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">Alice: "It's possible that God intervened and allowed the Ark to float, and since we don't know what gopher wood is, it is possible that it is a much stronger form of wood than any that comes from a modern tree."</p>
Snow job<p><span style="background-color: initial;">This fallacy occurs when someone doesn't really have a strong argument, so they just throw a bunch of irrelevant facts, numbers, anecdotes and other information at the audience to confuse the issue, making it harder to refute the original claim. Example:</span><br></p><ul><li>A tobacco company spokesperson who is confronted about the health risks of smoking, but then proceeds to show graph after graph depicting many of the other ways people develop cancer, and how cancer metastasizes in the body, etc.</li></ul><p>Watch out for long-winded, data-heavy arguments that seem confusing by design.</p>
McNamara fallacy<p>Named after <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_McNamara" target="_blank">Robert McNamara</a>, the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Secretary_of_Defense" target="_blank">U.S. secretary of defense</a> from 1961 to 1968, this fallacy occurs when decisions are made based solely on <em>quantitative metrics or observations,</em> ignoring other factors. It stems from the Vietnam War, in which McNamara sought to develop a formula to measure progress in the war. He decided on bodycount. But this "objective" formula didn't account for other important factors, such as the possibility that the Vietnamese people would never surrender.<br></p><p>You could also imagine this fallacy playing out in a medical situation. Imagine a terminal cancer patient has a tumor, and a certain procedure helps to reduce the size of the tumor, but also causes a lot of pain. Ignoring quality of life would be an example of the McNamara fallacy.</p><p>Language to watch out for: "You can't measure that, so it's not important."</p>
A new study looks at what would happen to human language on a long journey to other star systems.
- A new study proposes that language could change dramatically on long space voyages.
- Spacefaring people might lose the ability to understand the people of Earth.
- This scenario is of particular concern for potential "generation ships".
Generation Ships<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="a1e6445c7168d293a6da3f9600f534a2"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/H2f0Wd3zNj0?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Many of the most popular apps are about self-improvement.
Emotions are the newest hot commodity, and we can't get enough.