Exploring the Unknown

Exploring the Unknown
Representing the 99%!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

The Importance and Therapeutic Benefits of Communication By Emilie Desindes

What Are You Pointing At?
“The first uniquely human forms of communication were pointing and pantomiming. The social-cognitive and social-motivational infrastructure that enabled these new forms of communication then acted as a kind of psychological platform on which the various systems of conventional linguistic communication (all 6,000 of them) could be built.” 
- Michael Tomasello

Why Point When You Can Text?
Pic © Animal Communication
As Tomasello (2008) explains, these early humans understood each other because they had adapted to rudimentary form of sign language. Pointing was used to indicate direction or to point out something like danger or something that these Homo sapiens sapiens thought was interesting, to the rest of the group. Today it is still used to communicate and is even used while verbally communicating. Although there was and still is this extraordinary way of communicating, there exists many more ways of communicating such as verbal language, body language, and cultural gesticulations. Depending on where the individual comes from, gesticulations could have a completely different meaning (Morris, 1994). However, for an animal, if we point to something and tell them to do something, they will get confused as to what you want them to do or what you are showing them unless, for instance, these animals have been acculturated to human culture. Otherwise, as Tomasello (2008) explains:
“Walk up to any animal in a zoo and try to communicate something simple. Tell a lion, or a tiger, or a bear to turn its body like “this,” showing it what to do by demonstrating with your hand or body and offering a delicious treat in return. Or simply point to where you would like it to stand or to where some hidden food is located. Or inform it that a fearsome predator is lurking behind a bush by both pointing to the location and pantomiming the predator’s actions. They don’t get it. And it is not just that they are not interested or motivated or intelligent in their own way, but the fact is that you simply cannot tell animals anything, even nonverbally, and expect them to understand.”

Communication: A Possible Beginning

The Great Wall of China
Pic © Visit China
Humans have come a long way when it comes to communication. From smoke signals to today’s inventions such as the smart phone or social media, we have revolutionized the communication world greatly. Smoke signals were the first ways of visual communication, especially through long distances. According to Mashable (2015), smoke signals were “... the oldest form of visual communication. Simplistic in design and execution, they were used first used in 200 BC to send messages along The Great Wall of China. In 150 BC, Greek Historian Polybius devised a system of smoke signals that were visual representations of the alphabet. This meant that messages could easily be sent by holding sets of torchers in pairs […]”. What Mashable (2015) is saying is that, smoke signals were indeed the first signs of visual communication. Also to compare animals to human beings, just like animals use vocalizations to communicate long distances, the human species used the smoke signals. First used in China, they used smoke signals to alert one another of impending danger.

Smoke Signals
Pic © How Stuff Works
“Smoke signals are made by creating a fire and then using a blanket or cover to create puffs of smoke or designs in the smoke to relay certain messages to other tribesman who are a distance away. The messages are not complex, but they are usually specific to each tribe so that an enemy will not be able to interpret the message. There were, however, some standard messages, known to most tribes: one puff would mean "attention;" two puffs, "all's well"; and three puffs "danger." Smoke could be manipulated into spirals, circles, zigzags, and parallel lines, and the color of the smoke could even be changed somewhat by the wood that is burnt.”
This may have been a good way of communicating long distances and is still a useful way today. For example, when someone is camping, smoke signals are an excellent means of communication to let people know that you are in that specific location and may be in danger if ever that is the case.

The Evolution of Communication

The Industrialization Revolution has shaped humanity and the way humans communicate with one another immensely, by giving humanity the opportunity to create other means of transportation and communication through materials we have observed and experimented with. The “development of transport and communication has led to the national and international trade on a large scale. The road transport, the train service, the ships and the aeroplanes have eased the movement of men and material goods. Post and telegraph, radio and television, newspapers and magazines, telephone and wireless and the like have developed a great deal” (Sociology Guide, 2015).

Where Haven't Humans Negatively Impacted Earth?
 Pic © Antartica.Gouv.Au
Although humanity has indeed come a long way, however, its views regarding animals are still barbaric and devoid of compassion. Corporations, like Pfizer,  do not focus on the feelings of these animals and completely ignore the fact that they have emotions. Humanity has also chosen to ignore the impact that they have had on the very resources and animal habitats that they exploit for their own benefit. They are being diminished all due to the fact that humanity view these “wild” animals as an a natural resource itself to be exploited and for the benefit of humanity.

Empathy: An Extension of Understanding

Charles Darwin (1809- 1882)
“Empirical research on animals supports Darwin’s view, revealing empathy to be a phylogenetically continuous phenomenon that exists to varying degrees in non-human species.” (Darwin, 1871). Essentially what Darwin means by his statement is that empathy is genetically engineered into any species, it just varies to what point a species receives the gene. Zahn-Waxler (1984) states, “Further research has been done to see exactly how dogs specifically react to children’s behaviours.” He goes on to state:
“Both rats and pigeons in the laboratory display a profound emotional response to the suffering of a conspecific and act to terminate the stress manipulation. Monkeys react similarly in experimental distress situations, even starving themselves to prevent a conspecific from being shocked in their presence. There are many striking examples of empathy in apes. Much research has empirically demonstrated the existence of consolation in chimpanzees, whereby one animal will act to soothe the distress of another.”
Empathic Rats Spring Each Other From Jail
Pic © Discover Magazine
Furthermore, what Zahn (1984) is saying in his statement is that animals also have empathy towards not only others of the same species, but animals from other species. Even if it means harming themselves to make others comfortable or be safe, species have that sense of empathy in them. They feel what we feel. Another strong example of empathy towards others and to compare how animals are extremely similar to the human species, is an observation done with a twenty one year old Bonobo Ape named Kidogo. The excerpt I am going to share is about how Kidogo adapted to his new surroundings, with a health condition, and being surrounded by ape who essentially act like humans. Zahn (1984) states

“Kidogo, a twenty-one year old bonobo [Pan paniscus] at the Milwaukee County Zoo suffers from a serious heart condition. He is feeble, lacking the normal stamina and self-confidence of a grown male. When first moved to Milwaukee Zoo, the keepers’ shifting commands in the unfamiliar building thoroughly confused him. He failed to understand where to go when people urged him to move from one place to another. Other apes in the group would step in, however. They would approach Kidogo, take him by the hand, and lead him in the right direction.

Care-taker and animal trainer Barbara Bell observed many instances of spontaneous assistance, and learned to call upon other bonobos to move Kidogo. If lost, Kidogo would utter distress calls, whereupon others would calm him down, or act as his guide. One of his main helpers was the highest-ranking male, Lody. These observations of bonobo males walking hand-in-hand dispel the notion that they are unsupportive of each other. Only one bonobo tried to take advantage of Kidogo’s condition. Murph, a five-year-old male, often teased Kidogo, who lacked the assertiveness to stop the youngster. Lody, however, sometimes interfered by grabbing the juvenile by an ankle when he was about to start his annoying games, or by going over to Kidogo to put a protective arm around him” (de Waal 1997b:157). 

Language and the Brain

Language is the preferred method that is used in human communication. The website of Linguistic Society of America (2012), describes “Language [as] a significant part of what makes us human, along with other cognitive skills such as mathematical and spatial reasoning, musical and drawing ability, the capacity to form social relationships, and the like. As with these other cognitive skills, linguistic behavior is open to investigation using the familiar tools of observation and experimentation.”

Can Bicycling Be The Key To Genius?
The human brain is open to any kind of language it receives, it just takes time to process this new information and to make links from what has already been processed in the mother tongue. With observation and experimentation as stated by the Linguistic Society of America (2012). The brain is essentially like a dry sponge looking for liquid. When it receives new signals such as when a new language or command is heard, it processes it and wants to understand what has just been received. For example, when a child is learning to ride their bike, at first they look at others riding their bikes and want to imitate the action they are seeing, because it looks like fun. When the child starts to ride the bike, the brain is processing the actions that the child is doing, while the child is replaying in their head, what they saw from others riding their bikes. When an adult is teaching the child how to ride the bike, the child is also trying to listen and process the commands they are hearing, which may cause them to get frustrated and fall a couple of times. This is possibly because they are new to this, and hearing these commands, makes the brain confused and it becomes too much for that moment, however the child eventually gets back on and succeeds. 

The human brain consists of two main hemispheres, and four lobes. The left hemisphere controls Logic, Analysis, Sequencing, Linear, Mathematics, Language, Facts, Think in words, Words of songs, computation. Whereas the right hemisphere controls Creativity, imagination, Holistic Thinking, Intuition, Arts, Rhythm, Non-verbal, Feelings, Visualization, Tune of Songs and Daydreaming. Humans use all of these parts of the brain during at least one time daily. Whereas animals use their brains differently, which will explain a little later on why they act the way they do and how they can be connected with prisoners to integrate them into society.

Creating Relationships & Re-integrating Into Society:
Life With Dogs in Prison

Pic © Care 2 Animals
“Although the new findings don't prove that dogs fully understand all of the emotional aspects of human speech, they do show that dogs are at least paying attention to it, said study co-author Victoria Ratcliffe, a doctoral candidate in psychology at the University of Sussex in England.” 
- Tia Ghose

Be The Pack Leader Your Dog Deserves!
Pic © USA Today
Studies show that dogs do indeed associate the commands with human facial expressions, physical composure while giving the command and the tone of voice used while speaking. This is how they associate the meaning of the human wanting them to do a certain command. For example, after a while of training them to sit, and telling them while showing them with a point of the finger or hand the action that is wanted to be completed, the dog will eventually place these contexts together and perform the task. 

Pic © Psychology Today
Being socially isolated has a negative effect on them which interferes with these commands due to the lack of contact with humans. An example of this could be when a human integrates a physical harm action such as hitting them and then saying for instance “sit!” the action is then understood more as a command or threat to the dog, rather than being a command that is a good thing. When the dog is told to do this action, along with the association of physical harm, they will remember this command with the hand being put to them and will end up being scared of the owner. That is why when teaching dogs to do the things owners want them to do, they are given treats in exchange to and a warm pat on the head or a rub, to show that they did something good and this behaviour is encouraged. The abused and/or abandoned dogs are more commonly being integrated into society after being mistreated, with the integration of prisoners. ABC News (2014) states
“The first type of these programs was started in 1981 by Sister Pauline Quinn in the state of Washington. Since then, various Prison Pup Programs have been very successful in pairing inmates with assistance dogs in training. The dogs enter the prison enclosures in order to be raised before their final training as assistant dogs. Inmates are walked through training by the dog trainers before they are paired up with a puppy, and not just anyone can be chosen to be part of the Prison Pup program. Thorough background checks are performed, and the inmate needs to show a high level of maturity, willingness, and a clean discipline record.”
Pic © Neads.org
ABC News (2014), did a news article on a woman named Pauline Quinn, who organized the Prison Pup program. Which essentially is for integrating puppies who are going to be used as assistant dogs in training. These pups are integrated into prisons and paired with the prisoners who will be their trainers and eventually have given them the training necessary to go into society as assistant dogs. These prisoners are given a training from the dog trainers beforehand. The prisoners also have to go through their background checks and pass the criteria before getting accepted to take care of a pup. ABC News (2014) expands more on the subject:
“But life wasn't always so cushy. Quinn was donated by a breeder to become one of the first dogs in the Maine Prison Pup program at a minimum-security prison in Portland, Maine. Dog trainers school prisoners on how to train dogs, and then those dogs are assigned to people who need service animals. Bringing the dogs through the prison program, Chenaux said, is "mutually beneficial." It lowers training costs for service dog owners and provides inmates a job skill set that can be used upon release. Quinn is named for the programs founder, Sister Pauline Quinn.”
Sister Pauline Quinn & Quinn
Pic © FriendsForFolks
Having these dogs integrate into these prisons with the prisoners is beneficial for the both of them. The pups eventually grow up, are trained to be out with people when they are released, and are trained to be assistant dogs to eventually have their long-time owner. The prisoner’s situation are similar. They are taught how to be civil when going back into society, they are taught responsibility especially over someone else’s life (i.e the dogs) and taking care of them until they too are released. Also, the prisoners learn how to be compassionate, caring, and they realize that their lives still have a meaning. Some of them even reintegrate and then get a dog of their own, because they know the feeling of being lonely and then make this connection with the dogs who also need love and compassion. When they go back out into society, they will know how to feel again and are more social due to the skills they learn by interacting with the dogs. 


Cacioppo, John T., et al. (2011). "Social isolation." Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1231.1 p.17-22 

Flynn, Clifton P. (2000)."Battered women and their animal companions: Symbolic interaction between human and nonhuman animals." Society & Animals 8.2 p.99-127. 

Harlow, Harry F., Robert O. Dodsworth, and Margaret K. Harlow. (1965). "Total social isolation in monkeys." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 54.1 p.90.  

Petersilia, Joan. (2001)."Prisoner re-entry: Public safety and reintegration challenges." The Prison Journal 81.3 p.360-375. 

Preston, Stephanie D., and Frans BM de Waal. (2002)."The communication of emotions and the possibility of empathy in animals." Altruism and altruistic love p.284-308.  

Rizzolatti, Giacomo, and Michael A. Arbib (1998)."Language within our grasp." Trends in neurosciences 21.5 p. 188-194. 
St Leger, Lawrence. (2003). "Health and nature—new challenges for health promotion." Health promotion international 18.3 p.173-175. 

Tomasello, Michael. (2010). Origins of human communication. MIT press.  

Uggen, Christopher, Jeff Manza, and Melissa Thompson. (2006)."Citizenship, democracy, and the civic reintegration of criminal offenders." The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 605.1 p.281-310.

About The Author

Emilie Desindes is presently studying at Champlain College Lennoxville located in Quebec, Canada. The Importance and Therapeutic Benefits of Communication was written as part of an assignment for The Beast Within in the Department of Humanities.

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